Paris church is haven of calm in financial storms

Fri Oct 10, 2008 6:37am EDT
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By Elizabeth Pineau

PARIS (Reuters) - Dwarfed by high-rise office blocks, Our Lady of Pentecost Church is an oasis of calm amid the financial storms battering the Paris financial district outside and the rest of the globalized economy.

The starkly modern Roman Catholic church, so tied to the world of finance that it is closed at weekends, offers weekday mass, discussions, lectures and gospel music in the heart of the La Defense business district known as "Manhattan on the Seine."

There are discussion groups for bankers and human resources directors. The doors are open for dozens of homeless people who live in the labyrinth of car parks under the high-rises on the western fringe of the French capital.

"There's neither panic nor anxiety right now, but people are certainly asking questions," the Rev. Michel Anglares said of the worries the faithful reveal to him.

"We're not seeing more people at mass as you sometimes do in times of crisis," he said. "After September 11, 2001, we saw a rush of people we'd never seen before."

About 60 people attended Thursday's lunchtime mass at the church, a glass-and-concrete box a short walk from the gleaming Arche de la Defense that dominates the area.

Their comments reflected the faith that brought them here, but the grim realities they see in the office echoed through.

"People are wavering between anxiety and irony," said engineer Denis Fournet. "Today, somebody told me 'there are going to be bodies at the bottom of the high-rises'. People fear for their savings and worry that this could last a long time."   Continued...