Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Christmas crib is embarrassing to secularity

The title of this report at La Croix doesn't really translate successfully into English: La crèche de Noël embarrasse la laïcité. The first paragraph of the report reads:
Malgré les hésitations de la mairie, pour la première fois, une crèche a été installée sur le marché de Noël des Champs-Élysées à Paris. [Despite the opposition of the local authority, for the first time, a crib has been placed in the Christmas Market of the Champs Elysees in Paris.]
According to the detail of the report, this has come about as a result of an initiative by a parishioner, a retired gentleman in his 70s, Dominique de Causans. With the support of his parish priest, he first sought the cooperation of the director of the market, who readily agreed to make one of the chalets of the market available to the parish for the purpose of erecting a crib.
« Nous sommes tombés d’accord pour dire qu’un marché de Noël sans crèche, ce n’est pas un vrai marché de Noël. » ["We agreed completely in saying that having a Christmas market without a crib, that is not a true Christmas market."] 
 The monks of Bethlehem agreed to provide figures, from their workshop.
Mais, la veille de l’ouverture, la mairie de Paris signifie à la paroisse que « la connotation religieuse » du projet risque de « gêner ». Les paroissiens sont déçus, et la presse s’intéresse à l’affaire.

Craignant une polémique, la municipalité finit par autoriser la crèche sous trois conditions : « Que la paroisse n’apparaisse plus comme étant l’organisateur, qu’il n’y ait aucun prosélytisme et aucune présence humaine », résume Dominique de Causans. Accommodement ? « Moi, j’y vois un avantage, car ces critères ont le mérite d’institutionnaliser notre crèche. Peu importe qui est derrière : 15 millions de visiteurs vont passer devant et se laisser émerveiller. C’est cela qui compte. »

[But on the eve of the opening the local authority in Paris told the parish that the "religious connotation" of the project risked "disturbance". The parishioners were disappointed, and the media took an interest in the affair.

Fearing a controversy, the local officials concluded by allowing the crib under three conditions: "That the parish did not appear as being the organiser, that there is no proselytism and no human presence", continued Dominique de Causans. Satisfactory? "Myself, I see an advantage in it, because these criteria have the benefit of institutionalising our crib. Less important is the background: 15 million visitors are going to pass in front (of the crib) and be able to be filled with wonder. It is that which counts".]
The report in La Croix continues to describe similar situations, not all with a favourable outcome from the Christian point of view, occurring in different parts of France. The report observes that the problem here involves a certain malaise on the part of French society. Advent and Christmas are readily seen by many as a celebration of childhood or one's family, but without any reference to its religious or spiritual roots.

We can probably recognise this story in our own local communities. Those places where a crib is set up in a public place, or where a "live" crib is enacting with people and animals playing the parts, represent a real moment of evangelisation of a secularised culture.

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