Sometimes you still hear France referred to as ‘the eldest daughter of the Church.’ I am not sure how old the phrase is but it is thought to refer to the fact that Clovis, King of the Franks, accepted Christianity with his followers as early as the 6th century; as the precursor (rather loosely) of the modern French nation, people have seen this as the first conversion of a whole nation to Christ in western Europe. Given the level of Christian practice in modern France the phrase is often used ironically, as the daughter seems to have left home without a forwarding address: I often think that those who are indifferent or even hostile to Catholic schools in the State system in this country should go to Mass in France and count up the number of young families (the Church was completely excluded from maintained education at the beginning of the last century).
The great cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris is shown above, and this Sunday the people of France take part in the second round of their presidential election. Commentators all agree that the ‘run-off’ between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen is of great importance not only for France but for the whole of Europe.
We saw in our recent Lent talks that one of the signs of the activity of Satan in the world is the hatred being stirred up in so many parts of the world against people from outside particular countries – foreigners in general , refugees, asylum seekers.
The Front National has encapsulated this hatred in France for many years, capitalising on people’s fears after terrorist attacks and showing itself to be the enemy of the Catholic Church—indeed it has attacked the Church over our support for refugees.
The rise of the FN, and similar movements elsewhere in Europe, is a sign of how far people have abandoned the Christian religion, even though it shamelessly uses the cult of St Joan of Arc and other saints for its own purposes. What-ever the result of today’s election we need to be alert, guided by the Holy Spirit, to the signs of the times and pray for deliverance from falsehood and the ‘father of lies.’
Christianity teaches us that perfect love casts out fear – the only proper response to the needs of refugees coming to Europe is love, love in the name of Christ, sadly a language and a narrative which Mme Le Pen and her supporters do not understand. Pope Francis has repeatedly called on Christians and others all over Europe to do this, and what we say and do is part of what sets us apart from other people. There are some powerful examples: Père Jacques Hamel, the priest from Normandy who was stabbed to death while saying Mass in his church last summer, would be one of them. He had in his ministry pioneered good relationships with the local Muslim community (including selling them some Church land) and local Muslims paid tribute to him when he was killed: his martyrdom shows the abiding need for reconciliation and love, over and against hatred and violence (you can, by the way, watch the whole of his funeral Mass from Rouen cathedral on Youtube).
What we can see in France is something discernible all over Europe, including in this country: and it always demands vigilance and clarity about Christian teachings, the teachings which King Clovis adopted for his people back in the 6th Century – and as friends of France we pray for its Church and people this weekend.