October 10, 2008 / 11:10 AM / 10 years ago

Paris church is haven of calm in financial storms

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 globalize 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.”


Brice Le Deroff, who works for the insurance giant Axa, foresaw a new start after years of high-risk finance. “We’ll get back to real business and start doing serious work again,” he said. “After this necessary fall, we’ll be able to restart on a solid basis. I’m very optimistic.”

A man who works for the oil company Total said his faith helped him through difficult times like this.

“Faith gives me hope, but in this crisis people also have to do their part to find solutions,” he said. “Today, around the world, people are waking up to the fact that things have to go better for everybody, not just for some.”

Antoine Ondoa, a civil engineer from Cameroon attending a seminar in Paris, said wealth could not replace people.

“If you fall down, it isn’t money or these high-rise buildings that will pick you up,” he said. “People will be the ones that come to give you first aid.”

Anglares said he had noticed a general unease in recent years that went beyond the worries in the financial field. He saw people concerned about being fired, seeing their jobs moved abroad and being put under growng stress at the office.

“This is a place where they can take a deep breath to help them carry on,” he said.

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