Fascinating gathering this morning in the crypt of the Basilica of Lisieux, gathering Priests, staff members, volunteers and activists from across the Diocese of Bayeux, Lisieux and Caen. Guest speaker was Yves Le Saulx, recently installed as the Bishop of neighbouring Le Mans.
I wasn’t able to stay for the whole day, but what I did hear was encouraging and inspiring. The aim was to discuss the ‘conversion of the church towards mission’ - a favourite theme of Pope Francis and a process of which Le Saulx is a product champion. His presentation would not have been out of place in a Spring Harvest seminar…
This was no youth meeting (!) but the sense of real faith, relaxed worship and a genuine orientation towards mission was refreshing - and would have surprised if not shocked many I know in the protestant / evangelical world. It has been all too easy in recent decades to write-off the French catholic church as nominal and superstitious. There are still numerous Protestant analyses of religion in France that count “christians” but exclude catholics. Such bean-counters need to meet Michelle from Bayeux. She took the vacant seat beside me under the ornate mosaic ceiling of the crypt, and at first I thought she seemed a little downcast. When the worship team began, she came alive, and when we were encouraged to bless one another she prayed for me by name with words of depth and power. Michelle, like many of the 300 or so gathered in Lisieux this morning, is connected to the ‘Chemin Neuf’ community. She spoke with genuine affection and passion of the journey of faith the community has taken her on. Hers is a deep faith, rooted in catholic tradition and brought to vibrant life by the Holy Spirit.
I am so glad that Michelle and thousands like her are praying and working for spiritual renewal in France. I’m learning to re-draw my own inner maps to take account of their powerful and positive influence.