(Analysis) Pilgrimage of Chartres / Frat: Two rooms.  Two atmospheres

(Analysis) Pilgrimage of Chartres / Frat: Two rooms. Two atmospheres

Nearly 30,000 Catholics gathered for this Pentecost weekend at the Frat or on the roads of Chartres. Gatherings with sometimes very different sensibilities, which offer an interesting analysis of the practice of faith among young people. The decryption of our journalist Dominique Lang.

If you frequented nightclubs in your youth, you may know this expression – “Two halls.” Two atmospheres.” She reminded customers that in the same place, particularly through specific musical programming, two very different ways of celebrating could be offered. It seems that during this Pentecost weekend in France, Catholic religious news also declined this possibility.

On the one hand, in fact, supported by an imposing media system – Cnews, C8, Canal +, the traditionalist pilgrimage to Chartres was entitled to unprecedented coverage. From its launch, Saturday morning, at the end of the solemn high mass, in Latin, at the Saint-Sulpice church, a live round table gave the floor to pilgrims, organizers, priests, philosophers. Reports, interviews, live Pentecost mass: a technical and media system worthy of WYD, for a pilgrimage which brought together 18,000 people.

In the other “room”, under the large trees of the activity center of the Scouts and Guides of France in Jambville (Yvelines), more than 11,500 adolescents, with their chaperones, met for three days for their Frat, a festive, joyful and prayerful time, too. This adventure was only entitled to the retransmission of the Pentecost mass on the Lord's Day, on the public service channel which provides a shared and interreligious space on Sunday morning. Fortunately, social networks also took over to cover the various highlights of the meeting.

Musically speaking, the two rooms offered two contrasting atmospheres: here scout songs, rosaries and other Gregorian chants. There, festive praises and dynamic or meditative choruses led by the group Glorious. The same goes for liturgical rituals. On the road to Chartres, commentators have repeatedly endeavored to explain the details of the ancient rite celebration in Latin, with its flourishes of detail in gestures, attitudes and costumes. In Jambville, the celebration in French, according to the “ordinary” rite, was imposed with simplicity in the ritual. While letting yourself be carried away by the energy of Christian worship among adolescents.

A “liquid” practice of the Catholic faith

That in French society, so proud of its secularism, two Catholic celebrations are broadcast live and in parallel for the same solemnity of Pentecost is already worth highlighting. The fact that, for the first time, the Latin mass, with its back to the people, is entitled to such a representation, must also be. We know that on the side of conservative media, the public desire to restore more militant visibility to French Catholicism is boldly assumed. The machine is underway and this version of the Chartres pilgrimage has become one of its spearheads.

We also understand this by listening to the organizers of this traditionalist pilgrimage, very proud of their success. According to one of them, the participants would be made up of half of traditionalist Catholics who only frequent communities celebrating the rite in Latin. A good third of Catholics who can move from one rite to another without difficulty. And the rest being people who discover both the pilgrimage and sometimes the Christian faith. This capacity of traditionalist pilgrimage to bring people together well beyond its ordinary circles is a dynamic, indeed astonishing, which deserves to be underlined.

This originality undoubtedly testifies to the profound restructuring underway in the French religious landscape. But it cannot be analyzed only in the language of reconquest. Chartres and Jambville in fact firstly evoke the reality of a much more “liquid” practice of the Catholic faith by the younger Catholic generations. These generations – catechized in the dioceses, awakened by the energy of WYD, formed by new communities, sometimes educated in private schools or accompanied by young congregations followers of the new evangelization, confronted with other communitarian religious practices as among some Muslims – are not really interested in theological debates in the Catholic Church, preferring to concentrate mainly on the momentum that runs through all these places.

A search for roots

With first, the desire to express their living faith as personal good news that they want to share. Thus, both in Chartres and in Jambville, it is this adolescent faith that is highlighted. Some with the ambition to evangelize French society, others to strengthen ties in often poorly practiced environments. In their society of consumerism and hypercommunication, all means seem good to these young people, in an approach where individualistic feeling rubs shoulders with the desire to find a group with which to identify.

It is therefore not so surprising to see young people looking for historical roots that reassure them in a globalized world. It is undoubtedly in this sense that we must understand their openness to the Latin mass, even their interest in a rite whose history remains inaccessible to many. A need for “transcendence” and “verticality”, they repeat over and over again, as do the clerics who supervise them. But there is a great risk of falling into the trap of this nationalist Christianity – or this Catholic patriotism – which the organizers of the traditionalist pilgrimage loudly claim as obvious for the future.

The pandemic and its confinement have undoubtedly opened gaps in this direction. Didn't the most conservative Catholics take the opportunity to defy the Republic, going beyond basic health instructions to remind us that “God is first served”? Other young people felt this enormous void when, deprived of ordinary social relationships, they found themselves confined to limited and lackluster spaces and practices. In survival mode. Enough to then give a taste for strong commitments and calls to go far.

Overflowing energy

The Jambville gathering, fortunately, provides useful reversals. The 13-15 year olds who came for the occasion, supervised by young people of the same generation as those who went to Chartres, come from the dioceses of Île-de-France, in the great social diversity of these urban and semi-urban environments. -rural. A much more multicultural gathering than that of Chartres, undeniably, joining families from working-class suburban environments as well as other representatives of the diversity of movements and diocesan chaplaincies. The celebration of around ten baptisms, in the middle of this joyful crowd during the Saturday evening vigil, testifies to a vibrant and calling Church life. With an energy reminiscent of that of evangelical communities, also very active in the Parisian suburbs. While in Chartres, the pilgrimage insisted on spiritual effort, conversion and the return to a conforming practice, in Jambville, the proposal insists on the encounter with Christ, the grace of universal communion and attentive accompaniment to people, throughout their stages. Alongside the great celebrations of praise, times of confession and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament were also presented. While ensuring accessible, careful celebrations, where dialogue between clerics and laity is assumed naturally.

And the Catholic institution in all this? Of course, she's more comfortable at the Frat. A gathering of which she is also at the origin. The presence of Mgr Rougé and Ulrich bears witness to this, surrounded by numerous priests and chaplains. This generational pastoral reminds us that, on the ground, beautiful things are still happening, even if many parishes are suffering. The challenge now is to help these young people to complete the experience initiated at the Frat, to assume as young adults a solid and rooted faith. A challenge of supporting the human peripheries dear to Pope Francis. On the side of the Chartres pilgrimage, the presence of the Catholic institution is more discreet, as if in the second curtain. Certainly Mgr Tois, auxiliary of Paris, was present at the opening mass at the Saint-Sulpice church. Certainly the German Cardinal Muller immersed himself in the ancient ritual to preside over the closing mass of the pilgrimage. But the visibility and public expression were those of the priests of Saint-Pierre, of the Missionary Fraternity of Divine Mercy and other Dominicans or monks from the traditionalist sphere. Those who are already very present in the most traditional scout networks and the most religious private schools. They impose, in fact, their agenda which is the one, clearly assumed, that time is on their side. And may the fascination aroused by the pilgrimage to Chartres lift the old taboos, one after the other. We will have recognized here a strategy which resembles many others in the French political field, while nationalist circles everywhere seem to exploit the frustration of disgruntled citizens.

Still, in the end, it was Pentecost which was celebrated in Chartres and Jambville. A solemnity which reminds everyone how the first Christian community allowed itself to be affected by an unexpected noise and gust of wind coming from the sky. This Holy Spirit speaks to the heart, in the mother tongue of each person, well beyond our cultures or our sensitivities. Let one be a pilgrim tired of the long walk to Chartres. Or a teenager in Jambville, happy to simply know that he is loved by God.

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