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Celebrating All Saints Day in Paris

It’s All Saints Day. Lucas and I went to Catholic mass at the nearby church of St-Etienne-du-Mont, because I wanted to be near to the relics of Ste Genevieve on this day. Her shrine is in this parish, which is atop the Montagne-St-Genevieve. The holy fifth-century woman was interred here. I have been making visits to her shrine to pray before her relics and at her tomb throughout my visit here (remember, I ran into the Antiochian Orthodox Bishop Basil on my way to visit Ste Genevieve one morning; he and another American Orthodox priest were leaving, having prayed before her relics). During the French Revolution, a mob burst into the church, pried open her tomb, removed her body, burned it down by the river, and threw the ashes into the Seine. Only two relics remained, because they had been removed from her body earlier and sent to churches outside the city. They were recalled; one is in the treasury of Notre Dame de Paris, and another — a piece of bone — is on display in a reliquary at St-Etienne-du-Mont, along with her now-empty tomb.

We stayed for mass, which was beautiful. I prayed for, and asked Ste Genevieve’s prayers for, the unity of the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Ste Genevieve, a pre-schism saint, is a point of unity between us. I don’t speak French well enough to have followed the old priest’s sermon in its entirety, but I understood him well when he urged us to experience the joy of the saints on this day.

The church wasn’t full, but there was nevertheless a decent-sized crowd there, and there were more than a few young people, too, which was hugely encouraging. As I prayed during the liturgy, I thought about the mob that invaded this church so long ago, and the violence they did to it, and to the great saint’s body. I thought about how the Revolutionary government forbade Catholic worship here for about a decade, and turned this church into a secular “Temple of Filial Piety.” I thought about all the anti-Christian persecutions during the Revolution, and the murders of priests and religious. I thought about the great falling-away from the faith that France has witnessed in the past century. And yet … there people were, lining up to receive Communion. There was Holy Communion, still being offered under these Gothic arches. There were Parisians, singing, in Latin, “Credo in unum Deum…”.

There was the Church. Still. Like this great city, she is tossed about on the waves, but she doesn’t sink. Rejoice in the saints, indeed!

After mass, I made a final visit to Ste Genevieve’s shrine, to place two icons of her I’d bought, and to pray and light a candle for suffering friends of mine, and again to ask her to pray for the unity of our churches. We walked out into a brisk, sunny late autumn day in Paris, full of hope and joy.

Bonne fete to you, reader!