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French Catholic Diocese Launches Campaign to Promote All Saints' Day

The American holiday of Halloween has become wildly popular in parts of Europe, particularly in France in recent years. But not everybody is thrilled about the new craze for the October 31 festivities, particularly not French Christian leaders. The city's Catholic diocese is striking back.

The campaign is called Holy Wins, a night of Christian rock and reggae music at the Saint Suplice Church on the Left Bank of Paris. The concert is free, and it is being hosted by the Catholic diocese of Paris, which hopes to draw several thousand young French.

It is no coincidence the concert is being held on an evening when many Parisians, both children and adults, will be wearing witches' hats and demons' masks. Halloween has taken Paris, and France, by storm.

Father Benoist de Sinety, head of youth programs for the Paris diocese, says Holy Wins aims to offer a Christian alternative to a historically pagan festival.

Father de Sinety says he's not particularly upset by Halloween, although he dislikes the commercialism. But he says the Catholic campaign aims to draw attention away from Halloween and toward All Saints Day, the November 1 Christian holiday, when French and several other European countries remember their departed loved ones.

Besides the night-time concert, the Catholic Church is distributing 150,000 copies of a Christian newspaper on the streets of Paris, which highlights the importance of All Saints Day. And while many French patisseries have decorated their windows with pumpkins and goblins, others are making special, All Saints' Day cakes.

The Holy Wins campaign marks a softer approach by French Christian leaders, who just a few years ago condemned Halloween as a pagan and satanic ritual. The protests still simmer, but many French appear to ignore them. Halloween was almost unknown here just a decade ago. Now, according to a recent survey, almost a third of all French celebrate the holiday.

Halloween's popularity is growing elsewhere on the continent, including in Germany and the Netherlands. In Britain, Halloween has captured the same stunning popularity, and criticism, as in France.

For their part, Europe's Christian leaders have fought the Halloween battle before. Halloween's origins are European, not American. Ancient Celts in France and Britain observed the edge-of-winter festivities, when the souls of the dead were said to revisit their homes. Only in the ninth century did Pope Boniface IV, create All Saints' Day, to Christianize the pagan festival and eradicate the celebration of All Hallows Eve.