A Host of Christians in Paris

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A Host of Christians in Paris
In June, we bid farewell to spring, the season when Christian holidays such as Easter Monday, Ascension Day and Pentecost Monday prolong weekends and ease us into summer.  I was thinking about these religious celebrations when I came upon the first of a number of unusual places of worship during my meanderings around the city. Several days ago, I decided to take a different route home from the rue des Ecoles, and turned up the rue des Carmes for a brief but challenging walk up the hill toward the Pantheon.  To my left, I saw a small building that resembled a chapel.  When I approached the gate, I saw from the affixed plaque that it is a church called Saint-Ephrem, and that the congregation is Syrian.  The sign bears a foreign script (Syrian or Arabic) as well as Roman lettering.  Fascinated, I entered, and encountered two priests who were conversing in French with heavy accents.  The interior is decorated very simply, but boasts a beautifully ornate rood screen carved in wood.  This is one of the few such screens remaining in Paris, most of them having been destroyed during the French Revolution. I took a flyer from the table adjacent to the entrance to learn more about this church.  It is named after Saint Ephrem the Syrian, who lived from 306 to 373 A.D.  Its parish consists of over 350 families of Syrian, Iraqi, Turkish and Egyptian origin.  Mass is celebrated in Syrian, Arabic and French.  The prayer book is written in phonetic Arabic and Syrian, and is accompanied by a translation for non-Syrians who attend services here. The next day, while heading toward the Café Marly for a lovely lunch on the terrace, I happened upon a building on the rue de Lille that bears the words “Eglise Baptiste”.  Because the word église generally indicates a Catholic church, I was intrigued by the inscription and walked over to the building to investigate.  Upon entering the hall that leads to a tiny courtyard, I found a poster indicating that the principal worshipers here are Protestant, and are members of an evangelical movement called La Fédération des Eglises Evangéliques Baptistes (the Federation of Evangelical Baptist Churches).  My curiosity was further aroused when I saw a sign that said Berger d’Israël and another written in Chinese!  When I inquired about this, I learned that the Berger d’Israël is an association that offers Christian testimony to Jews and that a Chinese community worships at this address. The string of discoveries did not stop there. The following day, I went to the quartier Saint-Germain-des-Prés to photograph a few sites of interest on the rue des Saints-Pères.  I came across an old church on the corner of this street and boulevard Saint-Germain, whose facade is almost black from lack of restoration.  As I approached, the congregation was exiting the church, and I heard the lilting voices of a girl’s chorus inside.  Having always been curious about this place, I went inside.  I learned that it is a Ukrainian Orthodox church called Saint-Vladimir-le-Grand. Plaques in Ukrainian and in French displayed on either side of the double doors inside the vestibule tell of this church’s interesting history. It was formerly the chapel of a hospital called La Charité.  Simon Petlura, former president of the Democratic Republic of the Ukraine and Supreme Commander of its armies, was mortally wounded on rue Racine by an assassin who opposed the independent Ukraine. Transported to the hospital at this site, Petlura died here on May 25, 1926.  Years later, the hospital was destroyed and the chapel made into a church that was dedicated to the Ukrainian community. A day later, while making my way to the café L’Arrosoir on avenue Daumesnil for another lunch date, I noticed a tower topped with a cross looming above the Viaduc des Arts on avenue Ledru Rollin.  The tower faces the street at an unusual angle, and as I approached, I could see a wrought iron clock on the facade of the building.  This neo-roman church, which dates from 1903, is dedicated to Saint-Antoine des Quinze-Vingts (Saint Anthony of the Fifteen-Twenties – a reference to the 300-bed hospice that Louis IX created to care for the blind in 1260).  It boasts an organ made by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, who also created the famous organs at Saint-Sulpice, La Madeleine and Notre Dame de Paris. Last October, 47 members of this parish made a pilgrimage to Lebanon to forge a relationship with the Menorite parish of Saint-Antoine-le-Grand in Beirut.  Next to the entrance of the church in Paris, a plaque commemorates the official commencement of this relationship, which took place on January 17, 2003. Every church in Paris has a unique story, and foreign communities are an integral part of many of them.  The web site www.catholique-paris.com (in French) lists over twenty nationalities that practice Catholicism in Paris, including Portuguese, Haitian, Japanese, Latin American and Mauritian.  Two Protestant evangelical organizations operate in Paris – the one mentioned above and a second one called L’Association Evangélique d’Eglises Baptistes de Langue Française (The Evangelical Association of French Language Baptist Churches).  Membership in evangelical churches is growing due to increased participation by African and Caribbean immigrants.  Lutherans, Episcopalians and other Protestants also worship in the city.  As is true for so many other cultural aspects of life, Christian churches reflect the rich and diverse nature of the Paris population. Monique Y. Wells is co-owner of Discover Paris! – Personalized Itineraries for Independent Travelers as well as the author of Food for the Soul – A Texas Expatriate Nurtures her Culinary Roots in Paris.
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