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In a telegram congratulating the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, for his investiture, Pope Francis took the occasion to remind the lapsed Catholic president of his country’s “Christian tradition.”
While sending his “very cordial wishes for the exercise of your high office in the service of all your compatriots,” the Pope also said that he prayed “that God support you so that your country, faithful to the rich diversity of its moral traditions and its spiritual heritage marked also by the Christian tradition, may always endeavor to build a more just and fraternal society.”
Often referred to as the “eldest daughter of the Church,” France became Christian in 496 AD, when the Frankish King Clovis was baptized by Saint Remigius in the Cathedral of Reims. Ever since the French Revolution, however, with its deep-set anti-Catholicism, France has been immersed in its own version of secularism—or laicité—that often borders on contempt for the faith rather than just a healthy separation of spheres.
Emmanuel Macron himself has been referred to as a “zombie Catholic” by his biographer Marc Endeweld, meaning that, while not actively practicing his faith, Macron has been affected by its profound mark on culture and has assimilated certain aspects of the Christian message.
Zombie Catholicism, according to French scholars Emmanuel Todd and Hervé Le Bras in their book Le Mystère français (“The French mystery”), is typical of those areas of France such as Macron’s Brittany where the faith has fallen into desuetude while remaining active in the collective consciousness. The “zombie” dimension would suggest that the Christian faith is latent but could under the right circumstances come back to like again.
What makes such a reawakening more difficult in Macron’s case is his personal identification with socialism, which looks for salvation in the state rather than in the divinity.
As Pope Pius XI famously responded when asked whether socialism was compatible with the Christian worldview, the two “cannot be reconciled.”
As long as socialism remains truly socialism, Pius wrote, it cannot be squared with Christianity since “its concept of society itself is utterly foreign to Christian truth.”
“May France continue to foster, in Europe and throughout the world, the search for peace and the common good, respect for life and the defense of the dignity of every person and of all peoples,” Pope Francis wrote in his telegram to Macron.
“I heartily invoke the Lord’s blessing upon you and all the inhabitants of France,” he added.
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