Religion in France
France is traditionally a Catholic country, and boy can you tell! In Paris you will find some of the most renowned Catholic churches, such as Notre Dame (Our Lady). In nearly every village, regardless of size, there will be at least one church or chapel. In fact, a few months ago I was staying in a French village made up of only a dozen buildings, one of which was a church.
But that does not mean that France is still held firmly by its Catholic roots. Since 1905 France has been a secular state. According to the last census, 62 percent of the population are Catholics, 26 percent are without religion, 6 percent are Muslim, 2 percent are Protestant, and 1 percent are Jewish. Many of the people who call themselves Catholics are baptized, but no longer practicing. Many of the churches scattered in the countryside are no longer used. Some churches celebrate mass only sporadically, as there just aren’t enough priests to go around.
In fact, French President Nicholas Sarkozy was brought up as a Catholic, has been divorced twice, and no longer practices the religion. However, when the Pope visited France to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of Lourdes, Sarkozy said that France’s roots were “essentially Christian” and that it would be a crime against French culture not to recognize that. The Pope’s declared mission was to reinvigorate France’s Catholic roots.
When travelling to France, especially when visiting major cities, you’ll be sure to see at least one mosque. Many of the immigrants coming into France are from North Africa or the Middle East, and hence share an Islamic religious background. France, being a secular state, has had some issues in dealing with this. For example, there has been a large debate in France about whether young girls at school are allowed to wear the traditional Muslim hijab (headscarf). If Catholics can wear crosses in class, why can’t Muslim girls wear the headscarf? It is a continual debate in France that will evolve, just as the dynamics of the country will change throughout the 21st century.