Religion slowly returns to public sphere in France
By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor
PARIS (Reuters) - Religion has returned to the public sphere in proudly secularist France and Islam, religious ignorance and the late Pope John Paul all had something to do with it.
And, although he is twice-divorced and only goes to church occasionally, President Nicolas Sarkozy is also doing his part to keep it there.
The separation of church and state is deep in the political DNA in this traditionally Catholic country. Regular Sunday Mass attendance is down in the single figures. Priests almost never wear a Roman collar outside of their churches.
But things have changed over the past decade. After being all but stamped out of the public sphere, the question of faith has returned to political debates and gained prominence in the media. It's a minority voice, but is louder and more confident.
Pope Benedict's visit to France this weekend highlights that new-found confidence among Roman Catholics, the cultural majority in this country even if less than 10 percent of them are regular Sunday churchgoers.
"Religion has taken a much bigger place in the public sphere in the past 10 years," said Frederic Lenoir, editor-in-chief of the bimonthly magazine Le Monde des Religions.
"We were used to it being a private phenomenon," he said. "People could believe and practice, but nobody was interested. Journalists didn't care. But then we realized there was a kind of return of faith in the public sphere, because of Islam."
Now the second-largest religion in France, Islam became an issue in the 1980s and 1990s as more women donned headscarves, demanded separate hours in public swimming pools and refused to be treated by male doctors in hospitals. Continued...