Tag Archives: Bordeaux

French, Muslim and Patriotic? It’s all possible, says Alain Soral

On Saturday night in Bordeaux, sociologist and ex-Front National member Alain Soral joined Moroccan imam Tareq Oubrou for a discussion entitled, “French, Muslim and Patriotic.” After the two experts discussed their points of view on what it means to be Muslim and French in today’s society, the debate opened up to the nearly 200 people in the audience.

As perhaps the only American in attendance, I felt like I was watching the discussion from the sidelines: not 100% affected by what was being discussed and not 100% understanding where either side was coming from.

It’s hard to discuss immigration with French people as an American. Coming from a land created by immigration, how can I reproach a people (such as the Maghrebin) for setting their sights on a new life in a new land? Living most of my life in a country with virtually no single culture to preserve, how can I fight for one religion or culture to prevail here in France?

For these reasons, I usually choose to extricate myself from any conversation regarding immigration, unless I am directly asked about it. But even then, I try to hold my tongue. I’ve never had a French person much appreciate my responses.

While Saturday’s debate discussed whether or not French culture and religion can survive alongside or in spite of Islam, it forgot to touch on one major point that would clarify much of the immigration problems facing France: What does it mean to be “French” today?

Mohammed Ali Mosque

With France's growing Muslim population, some say the construction of new and larger mosques are the answer

Soral kept talking about how his views were not his own, but those of the “typical French white male” or as he put it, “the average French person.” This is where Soral – and much of French politicians – have gone wrong in the past few years. As one audience member asked during the discussion, “why are we still discussing whether the Muslim community can survive in France? We’re into the 5th or 6th generation Muslim in France these days… the issue is tired.”

The average French person no longer fits into the white Christian mold. Just look in any number of France’s chapels to see that most of them are in a constant state of emptiness. While Bordeaux is in the midst of a political cock fight against the possible construction of an enormous mosque in town, most “typically-French” people I know are “non-croyant” and haven’t been to church in years. While the Muslim headscarf has been deemed “ostentatious” by the French administration and an affront to their precious Christianity, the only remnants of “French Christian religion” are a few pictures of Santa Claus in public schools around Christmastime. When it comes to France’s culture and religion, I don’t necessarily see what the French think they are at risk of losing.

To me, France is not little old white ladies walking around with rosaries hanging from their necks (that would be Italy) – it’s great cheese, wine and pastries. It’s beautiful palaces, museums and castles, green countryside and stone houses. Living in France means less hours at the office and more time to spend with family. France is loved by so many because it still has that old world, European charm even in the 21st century.

However, that charm is often to its detriment. As the Soral-Oubrou discussion demonstrated, France is a little too old-world when it comes to current events. Immigration is not exactly a new issue. Ever since the war with Algeria from 1954-1962, France has tried ineffectively to integrate the Muslim population into French culture. Looking around today, even in France’s smallest towns, there are Vietnemese, Moroccan, Senegalese, Chinese and Cameroonese children, adults and grandparents. Immigration is here and it’s here to stay.

So before we drop our jaws at the prospect of being both French, Muslim and Patriotic all at the same time, let’s remember that – despite what the French political scene may look like – being French in 2009 does not necessarily mean being white and Christian. Until the “new French” person has been nationally established, then we can really start talking about immigration and what it means to be patriotic.

First Lady: one Dordogne Anglican priest is changing things up

America voted an African-American to be president for the first time ever at the beginning of November. The world is feeling the shift. Men and women of all races and backgrounds, from all across the globe, will surely find new hope in their possibilities for the future. But a female priest? Are we ready for that?

Well at least she’s not Catholic. Over the last few years, assistant chaplain Caroline Gordon-Walker of Saint-Germain-de-Belvès in the Dordogne region of France has become a local female leader in the Anglican community. In a religious world where men continue to claim the majority of high-level positions, this assistant chaplain has broken the religious boundaries of what is considered socially acceptable for priests in France.

fea-church1

In the Anglican church, women are allowed to lead as well as to be married with a family, but in some circles, it is still rather unorthodox. Apart from some lingering apprehension, Caroline, who came to the Dordogne in 1992, says she has always felt accepted as a female priest by the French. “I’ve been very welcomed here,” she says, from her gorgeous stone house with stunning views onto the Dordogne countryside. “It’s been heart warming.”

There are about 125 Anglican chaplaincies in the Diocese of Europe, which is the 44th Diocese of the Church of England headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Anglican chaplaincy of Aquitaine was first created in 1825 in Bordeaux and is home to the chaplain, the only paid member of the chaplaincy. When Caroline first arrived in the Dordogne, there were just four centers – now there are eleven. With the help of the incoming chaplain Paul Vrolijk (who will be based in Bergerac starting in January), Curate Gill Strachan, plus 10 clergy and readers, Caroline moves around the centers offering her services, usually hosted in unused or shared Catholic churches. “It’s very generous on the parts of the Catholics,” she adds.

The former London think-tank economist says she originally came to the Dordogne to retire. But soon, she started working as a lay assistant in Limeuil and eventually realized that she wanted to take her religious convictions further. Before she knew it, she was renting out her house to finish up religious courses at the Theological College in Durham, England and sharing an apartment with four others like a university student. “We’d all go out to the pub together,” she says. “It was lovely.”

Caroline was then ordained as a deacon in Bern, Switzerland and moved to Poitou-Charente to work as a curate for three years. In 2003, she was ordained as a priest by the Archbishop in Canterbury before returning to the Dordogne in 2005 to claim her current position as assistant chaplain.

Back home in the Dordogne, Caroline says that her primary mission is to provide services in English. “The whole idea is that people should be able to worship in their mother tongue,” says Caroline. “We’re doing something Pentecostal by allowing people to understand their religion.” Caroline says that most of her members are retired but that a new batch of younger people are joining the church. Most have a limited amount of French or find understanding French religious terminology difficult.

While most members are actually Anglican, many come from other branches of Christianity in order to participate in an English service. Regardless of the type of member, the numbers have grown enormously since she started – from 24 to 106 in the Limeuil centre, plus 323 total members in the department, 500 during Easter services and 1500 at Christmas.

“People come to us with different expectations,” Caroline says. “Different centers have slightly different flavors. The interesting mixture is working to meet the spiritual needs of the people here.”

If all are welcome at Caroline’s services, does this also include gay and lesbians, who have faced complications when entering into certain Christian circles? “I don’t think we understand enough about homosexuality. But there does seem to be a lot of research that shows that a genetic component is involved,” says Caroline, adding that in ancient Greece, it was considered strange if a man didn’t have a boyfriend along with his wife.

“There are many worse sins than sexual ones… Greed, cruelty, pride, violence, envy, prejudice and hatred are far more damaging sins, but are often not given as much prominence.” Still, she says, “As a leader, we wouldn’t necessarily think it was appropriate… just like it wouldn’t be if a married man left his wife, remarried and then reappeared to try to lead services.”

The Anglican community does more than meet for prayer and communion. You can join a ladies club or hiking group at the Dronne Valley Church, or take part in one of the fellowship groups at Dordogne Valley. If you need help with a marriage or funeral in English, the chaplaincy can work with you and your family. During Christmas, there will be plenty of services, plus markets, bazaars and fairs. A newsletter comes out of the Chaplaincy of Aquitaine every month to keep members up to date.

As Christmas approaches, Caroline beckons English speakers to visit her services no matter where they are in the Dordogne and hopes most of all that they will learn the lesson of acceptance. “My Christmas wish?” she thinks for a minute, “I’d like everyone to love their neighbors as themselves.”

Anglican Chaplaincy of Aquitaine Worship centers:
-Bordeaux
-Envals
-Bertric Burée
-Dondas
-Monteton
-Chancelade
-Sorges
-Limeuil
-Sainte Nathalene
-Doudrac
-Allez

For more information on upcoming services and special Christmas programs, contact http://www.chapaq.org.