At Home & Abroad,Lifestyle

Catholicism Here and at Home

7 Apr , 2016  

Eglise St. Madeleine is only a short walk down the street from my residence hall.

Eglise St. Madeleine is only a short walk down the street from my residence hall.

Throughout my life my Catholic faith has been a constant, so when I arrived in Angers it was important to me that I find a church that I liked. I didn’t think that this would be a problem, seeing as France is a Catholic country, and I had heard that Angers had cathedrals galore. When I arrived, I found that despite the large number of cathedrals, it was hard to find one that I actually enjoyed attending.

I started out by going to the famous Cathedral St. Maurice by the river for the first few weeks I was here, but it just felt like something was missing. Each time I went I was surprised by how much I felt like an outsider. Of the few people that were there, no one greeted each other or even really seemed happy to be there. The priest was hard to understand, and I felt no sense of community. Each time I went I was so focused on how differently the mass was structured that I struggled to follow along and take something away from each time I went. Because everything in my life was different after I arrived in Angers, I had been hoping that mass would provide me with some sense of normality. I felt a lot of frustration when it didn’t. I walked around each week in search of a different experience, but I was disappointed each time until I found Eglise St. Madeleine.

I had passed Eglise St. Madeleine many times on my weekly trips to the grocery store, but I hardly considered going because my list of other churches to visit was so long. One Sunday I was planning to go to another church downtown but was running late and knew I wouldn’t make it on time. Eglise St. Madeleine is much closer to where I live, so I figured I could make it there in time for mass. I arrived expecting more of the same disappointment but instead found everything I was looking for. It’s much smaller than the other churches in town, but shortly after I sat down dozens of people arrived. So many people came that the church was nearly bursting at the seams with families and old friends all smiling and giving each other “bisous,” the typical French kiss on the cheek greeting. There was such a joyful energy in the air while I watched everyone join their loved ones. Normally when I watch the French settle into church I feel ignored and out of place. At St. Madeleine I didn’t feel like that at all. People went out of their way to make me feel welcome. They actually talked to me and asked me questions about myself, something I rarely experience anymore. It was definitely a warmer environment both figuratively and literally because they had heat lamps, a feature the other churches have been lacking this winter.

Interior of the church complete with heat lamps high up on the wall.

Interior of the church complete with heat lamps high up on the wall.

When mass started, I had no trouble understanding this priest, and the love he shared for his faith was obvious. He spoke with such passion and such joy. Throughout the mass he invited everyone to share in his love by having us all take extra time for individual prayer. He also made sure to take the time to talk to each of the hundred or so attendees on their way out. After mass I knew that I had finally found what I was looking for. Everything in my life got better after that. The semester no longer seemed so daunting, my town felt more like a home where I belonged and my overall satisfaction with life in France increased tremendously.

Not only did finding this church help me personally, but it also taught me a lot about the decline in popularity of the Catholic faith in France. In my time here I have heard a lot of French people say they’re Catholic but few regularly practice their faith by attending mass regularly, praying before meals or even abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent. In fact, an article by Palash Ghosh in the International Business times stated that 88 percent of the French population identifies as Catholic but only 1 in 20 people attend mass regularly whereas Live Science reports that of the 22 percent of the US population that identifies as Catholic, 4 in 10 people attend mass regularly. On my recent trip to Paris, I asked my tour guide why so many people here claim to be Catholic but don’t practice. His answer was that being Catholic is a tradition they love but it doesn’t fit in with their increasingly modern lifestyle, which he described as being similar to my lifestyle in the US.

Each window of the cathedral is made of stained glass.

Each window of the church is made of stained glass.

This was an interesting concept to me as I feel that back at Truman I lead a much more modern lifestyle than I do here, yet I manage to still practice my faith. At Truman my so called modern lifestyle means that I’m busy all the time, I am on my phone or my laptop constantly, I have access to a lot more utilities that I tend to take for granted and I still manage to practice my faith in what I feel is a devout manner. This semester I live a pretty typical French lifestyle. I am usually not very busy or constantly using technology and  I have much less access to utilities like heat, air conditioning, and ovens which is normal in the area I live. Unlike many of the French people I’ve met here, I have tried to use my extra free time to grow even stronger in my faith. After being able to understand both lifestyles, it seems to me that the French in general should be able to lead the modern lifestyle they so desire and faithfully practice the religion they identify with at the same time. Many American Catholics are living a more modern lifestyle and still faithfully practicing their religion and I am not having any more issues faithfully practicing mine while living like the French people in my area. Though I ultimately disagree with the general trend in France of giving up faith in favor being modern, it has been a gift to be able to witness how my faith, my constant, is seen in another culture. Now that I found a church I connect with, I’m looking forward to gaining an even deeper understanding of the French culture through it.

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