Friday, September 12, 2008

A German Pope in Paris

This morning I noticed a police presence on the Left Bank that was slightly greater than the usual background noise, and puzzled over it for a time. Then, as I walked towards the Esplanade des Invalides—the park in front of the Hôtel des Invalides below which several French secret services are supposedly and incidentally headquartered—I saw that some sort of vast temporary construction was in progress, and it dawned on me that this is September 12 … and Pope What's-His-Name is supposed to visit on September 12-13, isn't he?

I can't remember his name; I know he's German. Compared to his popular predecessor, the French might say il brille par son absence ("he shines through his absence," meaning he tends to be conspicuously invisible), but history shows that popes are highly variable in quality and character. France seems to be rolling out the red carpet for him, in any case. That can be technically justified by the fact that he is also a head of state and not just a religious leader—he's the head of the Vatican, the microscopic child-free sovereign state cum tourist attraction inside Rome that forbids shorts and bare shoulders. But most heads of state are not invited to conduct religious services or give speeches to thousands of people during an official visit. Even the American president doesn't get that treatment, although he might enjoy it. At least the Bishop of Rome is not afraid to appear in public without miniguns on either side of him for protection or a "security area" ten miles wide around him.

About 92% of France is Roman Catholic; most of the rest is Muslim or Protestant. There is a small but influential Jewish minority. I'm nominally Catholic, too, although you'd never know it to look at me—to me, Catholic churches in France are items on a tour itinerary, not houses of worship (in France, most of them actually belong to the state, as part of a deal separating the state from the Catholic church just over a century ago). Less than 14% of French people are actually practicing Catholics, unless you count one trip to church for a wedding and one for a funeral as "practicing" Catholicism. Many are Catholics only in the sense that they've been baptized as such, and they may consider themselves agnostics or atheists. There's still a very devout minority of Real Catholics, however—enough to fill a church or stadium for a visit from the Pope. Many of them seem to be recent immigrants from Third World countries, so Catholic missionaries must still be hard at work.

I didn't linger to see exactly what was going on, and I avoided the area on the way back home. I'm not interested in Major Media Events,® and I don't even watch them on TV, much less in real life.

Blog Archive