NEWS BRIEFS

– Tej Francis

PARIS, FRANCE

RISE IN CRIMES AGAINST CHURCHES IN FRANCE SHOCK FAITHFUL, PROMPT REFLECTION

(CNA) Vandalism, theft, arson and other increasing attacks on churches in France have led to debates about their causes, amid shock to the community, questions about the perpetrators, and debates over what the attacks might mean about French culture and the place of Christianity. “Those downplaying the vandalism, which includes most leading newspapers and politicians, point to evidence that the attacks are the small-bore crimes of small-time miscreants. Those concerned that the attacks pose a more serious threat expressly dismiss that perspective,” American journalist and author Richard Bernstein has said in an essay for RealClearInvestigations titled “Anti-Christian Attacks in France Quietly Quadrupled. Why?”

Bernstein sees merit in both perspectives, putting them in the context of pressing French questions about populism, national identity, immigration, tradition, authority, and power.  At the same time, he acknowledges the deep concern of Christian communities which suffer such attacks and vandalism, even when they are not “hate crimes” properly speaking.  “Still, even if many anti-Christian acts are not hate crimes intended to intimidate a community of believers, the fact is that there are a large number of attacks on Christian sites that are sacred to many people,” he said. “Communities are shocked and made to feel vulnerable, in part by the sense that the incidents have proliferated so dramatically over the past few years, and they are taking place in virtually every corner of France: urban and rural areas, large towns and small villages alike.”

The Conference of French Bishops said there were 228 “violent anti-Christian acts” from January to March 2019.  In 2018, French police reported 129 thefts and 877 incidents of vandalism at Catholic sites, mostly churches and cemeteries. The French Minister of the Interior counted slightly fewer numbers of anti-Christian incidents that year.

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE

CATHOLIC SCHOOLS IN MEMPHIS TO REOPEN AS CHARTER SCHOOLS THIS FALL

(CRUX) As this school year wound down, the halls of the Jubilee Catholic Schools in Memphis, which opened 20 years ago, became still.  For students, faculty and staff, it was hardly the usual end-of-the-year packing up, because when these nine schools reopen in the fall they will not be Catholic schools but charter schools.  So, at the school year’s end, boxes of religious books sat near statues, waiting to be removed. Children picked up rosaries and prayer cards as they passed through the halls from tables that were filled with church materials, library books and other religious items that are no longer going to be allowed inside these schools.

In 1999, a multimillion-dollar donation from an anonymous group of donors allowed for the reopening of the first Jubilee schools in the hopes of educating some of the city’s poorest children. The resurrection of several once-closed Catholic schools was called a “Miracle in Memphis.” But now, for teachers and administrators who know what these schools meant in the lives of their students, that miracle has vanished before their eyes.  But this year, the Catholic Diocese of Memphis closed the nine Jubilee Catholic Schools at the end of the school year due to financial shortfalls. The endowment wasn’t enough to sustain a school system serving approximately 1,500 mostly non-Catholic students, many of whom went to school paying little or no tuition.

FRANCE

FOR THIS FRENCH PRIEST, RUSHING INTO NOTRE DAME’S FLAMES WAS PART OF HIS MISSION

(NCR) From the war zones of Afghanistan to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, Father Jean-Marc Fournier has been at the forefront of several of his nation’s greatest recent tragedies. As the whole world watched the photos and videos of Notre Dame burning April 15, Father Jean-Marc Fournier’s face became indelibly associated with the terrible fire on the first day of Holy Week. It is an image of heroism and hope imprinted in the minds of millions of people, thanks to the courage this French priest showed in taking part in the rescue of the Blessed Sacrament, the Crown of Thorns and the Tunic of St. Louis, and guiding firefighters through chapels and corridors, while the flames had already consumed a significant part of the cathedral.

Born in 1966, Father Fournier was ordained a priest in 1994 and joined the French Forces in Afghanistan in the 2000s. There, he lost 10 comrades during the Uzbin Valley Ambush in 2008. In 2011, he went back to France, where he joined the Paris Fire Brigade as their chaplain.  In 2015, he was called in to the scenes of three terrible terror attacks that occurred in Paris that year: the shooting at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, followed by the Hypercacher kosher supermarket siege, and, on Nov. 13 of the same year, he took part in the evacuation of the wounded of the Bataclan theater attack — even as the shooting was occurring. During the event, he was seen praying before the victims’ bodies and offering a collective absolution to the wounded.

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