Au Bistro

Light and Shadow on Pope's Visit

le Sorbon

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Saturday, 21. September 1996:- Pope John-Paul II arrived at Tours during a rainstorm on Thursday for his fifth visit to France. He did not look well as he left the Alitalia jet and the press has been speculating endlessly about his health.

Under a brilliantly clear sky on Friday, he seemed much more robust as he made his rounds to meet 120,000 Catholic faithful in Brittany, at Ste-Anne-d'Auray. Today he was again in Tours, and tomorrow he flies to Reims to celebrate the 1500th anniversary of Clovis' baptism by Saint Remi.

In a poll conducted by CSA, published in Thursday's editions of Le Parisien, 34 percent of the French polled declared they had doubts about the Pope's actions and 17 percent were strongly opposed, leaving him an approval rating of 37 percent. In response to another question, 70 percent agreed that John-Paul II was either conservative or traditional, while only 27 percent thought he was open to reality or progressive. Compared to polls conducted eight years previously, doubt has risen dramatically.

In France, 67 percent of the population is Catholic; but only 13 percent are practicing. A full quarter of the population claims no religion. The remainder are two percent Muslim, two for Protestants, one for Jews and three percent for 'others.' The number of priests are down by 8,000 to 30,200 since 1980.

France is a Republic and by law, the church is divorced from the state. A lot of people take this seriously, and security forces are on the alert for disruptions by ultra-Republicans, who have, so far, have contented themselves with speeches. Nevertheless, the French air force is on the alert for low-flying ULMs - to prevent leaflet bombing runs on the 'Popemobile,' a converted four-door Mercedes jeep.

For the anti-Papists and the health-chroniclers, the Pope has promised a return visit - to Paris - on Friday, the 15th of August, 1997.

'Dirty Talk' Gains Participants in France

In last week's Metropole Diary column, I expressed the hope, under the title, 'Dirty Talk in France,' that somebody in France would get up and out-talk Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the ultra-right Front National Party.

I'm sure it was the purest co-incidence, but while I was writing that opinion, François Léotard was blasting Le Pen at a Republican meeting at Rognes. The President of the UDF party said, "Le Pen stubbornly incarnates, one who is proposing to France the slow and terrible policy of hate. This puppet, Le Pen, manipulated by his own grudges, is the obstinate incarnation of smallness of heart and reason. His is a France of small grudges, little weaknesses, minor ambitions," but to Le Pen, "it is also, remember, a France of great betrayals."

And that was only Monday. It was in reaction to a speech Le Pen made last weekend. On Monday evening by one of his lieutenants called the French Republic 'rotten.'

On Tuesday, the Conference of the Bishops of France weighed in to the war of words, saying that a Catholic label could not be glued to a bottle full of racist thoughts. The Archbishop of Paris, Mgr. Lustiger, said that the inequality of races proposed by Le Pen, was an "old theory of the 19th century," that the church has recognized as a mortal danger for the past half-century.

On Thursday night, the Prime Minister, Alain Juppé, was reported to have said in Montpellier, "Jean-Marie Le Pen is profoundly, I say deep-seatedly racist, anti-semitic, xenophobic. That is the translation of all his declarations for the last 15 years and one must fight against it." He continued, "We don't want a society in which we are told that some races are superior to others, that Jews do not have their place in the sun, and that xenophobia is the only possible answer."

On Fridy, at party headquarters at St. Cloud, west of Paris, Jean-Marie Le Pen responded to the Prime Minister's remarks by saying, "I solemnly demand the resignation of the Prime Minister," and said he was going to sue for defamation. He added, "It is evident that Mr. Prime Minister is acting without being in procession of all his powers nor has the equilibrium necessary for running the government."

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