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In Lyon, taking up the challenge of integration into the parish

This morning, Frédérique is leading the 10.30 a.m. mass in the parish of Saint-Thomas de Vaulx-en-Velin (Rhône), accompanied by three other singers and guitarists, violinists and flautists of West Indian, African and metropolitan. For the celebration, the young woman from Reunion chose French songs from the Emmanuel or Chantons en Eglise repertoire. But for the universal prayer, she wanted the assembly to discover a song in Creole, which resonates between the light walls of the church built in 2012. “ We say or listen to our prayer there, rise up there like incense smoke. We ask or enlighten out ban zenfants. »

We make rotations for the animation, each community introduces songs from home. We speak all languages ​​here! “, assures the young woman. Like the neighborhood in which it is located, the parish of Saint-Thomas, entrusted since 2017 to the Society of African Missions, is a beautiful illustration of the face of the universal Church. West Indians, Reunionese, Mauritians, Africans, Portuguese, Serbs, Iraqis, Tamils, Vietnamese come to pray together in this cosmopolitan community. The animation group, made up of young people and created two years ago, reflects this diversity. ” We takes up French songs in our own way, changing the key, the chords, sometimes even singing French songs in Wolof, Lingala or Baoulé with French translations alongside “, explains Jean-Luc Caparros, founder of the music group, originally from Vaulx-en-Velin and married to a parishioner from Guadeloupe.

A mass led by young people

And the recipe works. The day before, the group of musicians – which tours the four parishes of Vaulx-en-Velin – played in the Church of the Assumption, whose community is a little older than in Saint-Thomas. The parishioners asked us to come and play more often! » In Saint-Thomas, Mrs. Laurent, a retired shopkeeper, is one of the oldest parishioners. ” It feels so good to come here and have a mass led by young people! Like what, it is possible to have young people in the churches! »

In the Lyon metropolitan area, a region that welcomes many Catholics from African or West Indian immigration, the situation of the parish of Saint-Thomas is not isolated. ” Apart from the parishes in the city center, I would say that about one out of three parishioners in the Lyon metropolitan area is African or West Indian. “, reports François du Penhoat, provincial superior of the Society of African Missions of Lyon. In 2017, responding to a call from the diocese, this society of apostolic and missionary life born in Lyon in 1865 offered its services to administer the newest parish of Vaulx-en-Velin. It is a way of giving back to this diocese which has given us so many priests says Dieudonné Baloïtcha, parish priest of Saint-Thomas and originally from Benin. ” It’s a bit of reverse evangelism! exclaims his superior. We were missionaries in the countries from which the priests who are today in our parishes come, to announce the Gospel in a culture less welcoming than the African cultures. »

A difficult integration

Price to pay for this dynamism, integration into French parishes is sometimes complicated. Arriving in Lyon for his studies in entrepreneurship, Clovis, from Benin, wanted to find a local parish. ” But they did not live the Eucharist like us in Africa. There were fewer people, it was only seniors… By word of mouth, Clovis went to Saint-Nizier, a parish on the Lyon peninsula entrusted to the community of Emmanuel. I found everything I was looking for, young people, music…” Yet the young man still describes himself as a ” Sunday Christian. It’s only people who know each other, and there are very few Africans..

Clovis is not the only one to suffer from adjustment difficulties. Culture shock can discourage some Afro-Caribbean Catholics who, in their country of origin, grew up with festive celebrations, rhythmic music, great devotion to the Virgin, a strong attachment to the liturgy and to popular forms of piety. … In France, they come up against a more interiorized, more silent expression of faith, as well as a particular relationship to secularism. Faced with this discrepancy, some are discouraged and turn to evangelical communities, whose faith is more expressive and more festive. To accompany this cultural shock and avoid departures, the African communities and AGR (Antilles/Guyana/Réunion) have been asking for a referent priest for several years, as is the case for the Malagasy, Tamil and Vietnamese communities. ” Why would there be one for others and not for us? says indignant Irma, parishioner of Saint-Thomas.

The importance of inculturation

This question, Rémi-Clovis Kientéga hears it a lot among the African students who attend the parish of which he will be the parish priest next September, Saint-Irénée. Nestled on the heights of Lyon in a former popular district in full gentrification, this community, marked by social Catholicism and the Vatican Council II, enjoys immediate proximity to the André-Allix university residence, many of whose residents are African. But some tend to keep to themselves. I fight against it! », gets angry the Assumptionist religious of Burkinabe origin. Faced with students who ask him for an African choir, he always answers the same thing. It’s not evangelical to keep to yourself. We must inculturate ourselves, allow ourselves to be integrated into the life of the country that welcomes us. We cannot stay stuck in Africa. »

This is also the strategy of the diocese, in terms of integration. Provincial Councilor of the African Missions and former Archbishop of Niamey, in Niger, Michel Cartatéguy takes care of accompanying young foreign priests in their integration into the diocese of Lyon. ” If we create an African chaplaincy, all the parishes will be empty! » Rather than bringing together Afro-Caribbean Catholics, the idea would rather be to let them integrate into the different parishes of the Lyon metropolitan area. These communities have a real dynamism and tend to better transmit the faith to their young people, it would be a shame to let them go! »adds François du Penhoat.

Stop putting people in boxes

La Sainte-Trinité, a parish attached to the Polish community and located near the eastern ring road, seems to have succeeded in this bet. In the modern nave built wide, parishioners of African origin pray the rosary before Sunday evening mass alongside the Poles and the French, a sign of a strong common attachment to the liturgy. Rhythmized by a synth and discreet maracas, the songs of the celebration are as diverse as the Chorale des séraphins which interprets them: the songs of Emmanuel, Glorious and the prayer of abandonment of Charles de Foucauld rub shoulders with a song of offertory in Kikongo, a language spoken in Congo and Angola.

The Polish priest, Lukasz Skawinski, values ​​this diversity. Above all, I don’t want to put the communities in boxes. I like everyone to feel free to express the richness of their charisms. » Precisely, Anne-Sophie, Reunionese and member of the choir, suggested the idea of ​​learning lady of my island, traditional Reunionese Marian song. While waiting for the choir to hear it, she and her metropolitan fiancé, Jean-Baptiste, will sing it at their wedding this summer, in the church where we meet them. Symbols of this new generation of Catholics freed from these “huts”, the alto and the tenor met on the benches of the choir… as cosmopolitan as the future wedding guests.

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