Pope Benedict XVI arrives Friday in Paris on a four-day trip that will
also include a visit to the southwestern French town of Lourdes. From
the French capital, Lisa Bryant reports for VOA.
will deliver a key address in Paris and meet with French President
Nicolas Sarkozy before heading to Lourdes, which is celebrating the
150th anniversary of the apparition of the Virgin Mary to a shepherd
This is Benedict's first visit to France as pontiff, and
he follows his far more charismatic predecessor John Paul II, who
visited Lourdes twice.
In a video released on the Internet by
the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict addressed his greetings to the
French before his arrival and said he was sending a message of peace
and fraternity to France.
Bishop Antoine Herouard, general
secretary of the French council of bishops, said he hoped the pope
would shore up the convictions of Catholics here. "What we are
expecting is first for him to give some help and boost to the faith of
Catholic people here in France and let them be stronger in their faith
and hope, and to be able to give their own testimony of faith and
Christian life," he said.
While the majority of French are born
into Roman Catholic families, only about 50 percent of French consider
themselves Catholic - and only about a quarter of them are observant,
public-opinion surveys show.
But 53 percent of French had
positive views of the pope's visit, according to a survey published in
Le Parisien newspaper. Among Catholics 65 percent responded
In interviews in busy downtown Paris, many French
said they were uninterested in the pope's visit. That includes
19-year-old restaurant worker, Gael Michel. He said he was completely
indifferent to Pope Benedict's passage in France. He is just a person,
Michel said, like everyone else.
Same answer from Amelie Jadot,
visiting Paris from her native Brittany. Although she comes from a
Catholic family, she says she does not believe in religion. She thinks
Pope Benedict's visit is primarily for political ends - not religious
An associate director at the IFOP polling agency in Paris,
Jerome Fourquet, said the de-Christianization of France is reflected
elsewhere in Europe.
Fourquet said the fall in belief and
observance here has been especially steep since the 1960s, and even
Pope John Paul II was not able to reverse the decline. He says France
also has a tradition of sharply separating church and state.
Fourquet said, the Catholic church is trying to tap into new trends,
with its world youth days and by stressing pilgrimages - such as that
to Lourdes - which remain very popular in Europe.
The pope may
get an unexpected boost from President Sarkozy, a lapsed Catholic who
is twice divorced. During a visit to the Vatican last year, Mr.
Sarkozy said that upholding France's Christian roots did not contradict
its secular creed.