Comment Opinion & Features

Parishes need more than one priest

The Church of Saint Jean-Baptiste de Grenelle in Paris

As I have mentioned before, when I visit Paris I stay with cousins in the 15th arrondissement, and on Sundays I attend Mass at their local parish, which is one of the most impressive in the city.

Impressive because every time I’ve been there, the church is full. Not only that, but the attendance is multi-generational – so many younger people (and children) as well as people in middle life and the older generation. According to my cousin-in-law, who is an active part of the Saint Jean-Baptiste de Grenelle congregation, it attracts 3,000 Mass-goers every weekend.

In an era when many churches have falling congregations, or where, as at a suburban church which I attend in Dublin, the sparse attendees are almost all greyheads, this is striking. Nothing wrong with being a greyhead – I’d be one myself if I didn’t apply the products of Miss Clairol regularly – but every community needs younger people as well. (It should go without saying that the congregation is also multi-ethnic.)

Saint Jean-Baptiste de Grenelle – which is situated in the centre of the Place Étienne-Pernet, near the Félix Faure or Commerce Métro stations – could, perhaps, be researched as a model for a successful parish church. What are they doing right?

They are lucky in this respect: the parish operates with a team of priests. There always seem to be two or three about the place, fully engaged with the people (including the two regular mendicants who sit at the foot of the church steps, seemingly perfectly accepting of their self-allotted posts). I’ve come to believe that the one-priest parish is often too much responsibility for one man alone – and it must be lonely not having colleagues to share those responsibilities.

With a team of priests, there is a sense of sharing the care of the parish. And inevitably, in the course of human nature, the division of labour is useful. Different individuals have different talents and aptitudes. One person might be a gifted pastor, while another is a good organiser, and a third has a special gift for music or addressing family issues. It’s not easy to be, say, deeply spiritual and deeply practical at the same time.

There’s a lot of music at Saint Jean-Baptiste, and many opportunities for kids’ and families’ involvement. (This coming weekend, there’ll be a special pilgrimage for fathers.) There are also plenty of events such as days of spiritual exercises to develop a path “to find God in our lives”. And more.

There’s just so much going on, and as the bells of the church ring out regularly on the hour, it seems just as it used to be in medieval times: the church at the centre of the community.

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The Cardinal-Archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, has a very interesting backstory. He was originally a doctor, and practised as a GP between 1979 and 1990. He also pursued further studies in medical ethics, and at the age of 44, was ordained a priest. He seems to be much respected and his career as a general medical practitioner provided a useful training in people skills as well as pastoral ones. And, no doubt, the skills of managing bureaucracy, too…

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Heat or no heat, nothing stops the trottinettes from whizzing about Paris. These are adult versions of a child’s scooter, sometimes with an added motor engine the better to make them go faster. They’re everywhere, and the users come in all ages and shapes. Many of the trottinette riders are, predictably, younger working people in a hurry to avoid the traffic jams. But I glimpsed several examples of greyheads scooting around at a daunting pace.

As with cyclists, some consider trottinettes a menace, and they are to be subject to more regulation. But they do look like fun.

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The mercury has reached more than 45°C (113°F) in some parts of France, and there are warnings from the authorities, everywhere, to take care, carry water, don’t risk exposure when the sun is too hot, and so on.

Sensible enough advice, but some rebuff it as “l’etat nou-nou”. Yes, it’s the “nanny state”.

Follow Mary Kenny on Twitter: @MaryKenny4