In many countries, COVID lockdowns have included bans on gatherings in places of worship. In France, the current restrictions on services at churches have prompted protests from the country’s Catholics, and they have been taking to the streets.
The pandemic places a heavy burden for believers in France. Places of worship are still open during the lockdown but regular prayer services are banned due to health concerns.
As many French Catholics see it, having faith-related activities labeled as “non-essential” and therefore suspended by authorities, is nonsense.
Roman Catholic Bishop Matthieu Rougé of Nanterre, a city near Paris, says the restriction goes against something that is sacred to observant Catholics.
“Catholics in France suffer from not being able to come together for this essential moment: the Sunday Mass. Many do not understand that it is possible to shop in a supermarket filled with buyers and that it is forbidden, at the same time, to meet in our churches in strict compliance with health precaution rules,” said Rougé.
Some Catholics strongly oppose the safe-distance restrictions when it comes to worship, and have decided to hold street prayers in defiance of authorities. They are asking the government to allow public services.
Yann Raison du Cleuziou is a political science professor at Bordeaux University. He describes those who started the mobilization as young conservative Catholics.
He explains that these conservative Catholics have a long experience of holding street rallies in France. He notes they mobilized in 2012-2013 against same-sex marriage. Since then, they have protested against bioethics legislation and the possibility for couples of getting access to assisted reproductive technology. The professor notes what he says is their huge ability to mobilize their supporters and voice their concerns in the public space.
The French Prime Minister, Jean Castex, held talks on Monday with representatives from different religions in an effort to clarify the government’s position and reassure them that places of worship could reopen as soon as December 1st , if the lockdown measures are lifted.
This would be good news for Father Cedric Burgun, a Catholic priest and a vice dean at the Paris Catholic Institute.
He says it is reassuring to him that a timeframe is now set for a reopening. However, he says this pandemic has been unpredictable and no one controls it. Burgun says people should remain cautious about the evolution of the pandemic in the coming weeks.
Under the current measures, churches can hold funerals with a maximum of 30 mourners and celebrate weddings with no more than six people attending but larger gatherings remain banned.