Metz, a diocese proud of its exception

The Moselle is due to its particularity. Annexed by Germany in 1870 like Haut-Rhin and Bas-Rhin, the region was not French when the law of 1905 was promulgated. Even today, it remains subject to the Concordat regime, heir to the Napoleonic era. Its priests, pastors and rabbis are paid by the state. Religious education is also given in public schools, even if there are more and more exemptions.

Consequence or not of its proximity to the State, the Church seems, in Moselle, to be more established in the landscape. She is still recognized in society, particularly in the east and north of the department.

So, better off than elsewhere, the Moselle Church? With more than 200 active priests, it still has many resources at its disposal – at the risk of not always leaving enough room for the laity – and finds in the common heritage of the Concordat much more than a privilege: an identity to which reattach.

“The successive annexations as well as the 39-45 war have tested us hard, and it is a solidarity that we still have in common, assures Philippe Boissé, parish priest of Queuleu and Plantières. Whether Jewish, Protestant or Catholic, we have experienced this together. »

Anne-Sophie Vaxelaire,diocesan referent for integral ecology

Opening our churches, setting up projects with non-Christians, is the center of our ecological approach. The climate emergency is such that we cannot remain alone to deal with it. This year, for example, we have organized eco-spiritual walks with the CCFD-Terre solidaire, to combine discovery of fauna and flora with time to contemplate Creation. Among other projects, we have also organized ecology days, with several awareness stands set up in churches on carpooling, fair trade, zero waste, etc.

Federating priests

Ecology sometimes suffers from a guilt-inducing image, or can be perceived as an extra task to be done, which is not essential. The first step is to get people to change their outlook, and then act. This often goes through children. Last year, in the garden adjoining a church in Metz, we organized an hour and a half workshop per month for the children of the caté, after communion. They installed nesting boxes, built insect hotels… It worked very well! Through the children, we sensitize the parents.

On this subject, it is essential to have the support of the priests, because they are the ones who unify. Some are sensitive to the subject, others less so, or don’t necessarily have the time to devote to it… But if they’re up for it and a team of volunteers is created, it’s on!

Bishop Jean-Pierre Vuillemin,apostolic administrator of the diocese

We need to involve the laity more. That is a challenge, since in the Moselle mentality the priest, paid by the State, is assimilated to a civil servant. It should not be forgotten that in Moselle the priests are more numerous than elsewhere, younger too. However, here too, the clergy is aging, it is a large territory, and some priests are running out of steam.

The Christians of Moselle must therefore become aware that they too are actors in ecclesial life, in particular in a region where the figure of the priest is still recognized, even by non-believers. It’s a good thing, but it can prevent Christians from getting started: they expect a lot from the priest.

Sometimes a feeling of discouragement

Pastoral orientations encourage them to take their place, and priests to leave it to them. This awareness exists, but it is more or less rapid, and more or less successful. Because we are also experiencing a crisis of commitment: many priests say that they would be happy to work with lay people, but that the latter are not committed.

The Catholics of Moselle are not always aware of their dynamism and their potential: they have human resources, a sustained practice, a dynamic youth ministry. But there can be a feeling of discouragement, because the forces are running out.

Patrick Weiten,president of the departmental council of Moselle

We are naturally inhabited by the history of this department, where the Church occupied an important place at all times of life. This accompaniment still continues, in particular in public schools, where religious education continues to be provided. But unfortunately, when we add the crisis of vocations and the crisis of voluntary work, we see a very clear decline in the place of the Church.

Local law and concordat

In Moselle, we succeed in assuming the need for a secular state while being deeply attached to local law and the concordat. Relations between the department and the bishopric are excellent, and I don’t know of any major difficulties. Except, perhaps, about the buildings made available to the parishes by the town hall. Sometimes mayors regret continuing to invest in presbyteries where the priests no longer reside.

I believe that the relations between the State and religions, whether Jewish, Catholic or Protestant, have given a form of serenity to social life. The links between the mayor, the teacher and the priest allowed the reception, the accompaniment of the most disadvantaged and the animation of the youth. The Church was also present in professional life: my father was, for example, president of the Catholic railway and postal workers.

The Concordat is a system that has worked very well. The great Moselle that was Robert Schuman, recognized both by the Church and by his political peers, could testify to this.

Few local assemblies in France have a seat for the priest and another for the mayor. In Moselle, however, there are still factory councils, a body inherited from the Concordat. Five councilors – or nine if the town has more than 5,000 inhabitants – all parishioners meet there four times a year with their parish priest and their mayor, ex-officio members, to decide on the upkeep of the church and to manage the parish budget.

Together, they agree on the work for the roof, the change of the lights, the financing of a pilgrimage, or the repair of the boiler of the presbytery. All members must go to mass, which is not always self-evident. Philippe Boissé, parish priest of Queuleu and Plantières, remembers a factory council in the Fensch valley, a land of miners, where the president of the factory, who also led the cell of the Communist Party, was not assiduous on sunday.

State control over the Church

Endowed with the status of a public establishment, the factory council remains an instrument of State control over the Church. If a share of the factory’s income comes from collections, subsidies or donations, the mayor retains a right of inspection over the accounts, and can provide funding. “We don’t do what we want with the factory’s money! »warns Philippe Boissé.

Over time, the power relations have changed in these deliberative bodies. Philippe Boissé also knew the time when certain priests prepared the accounts, invited the fabricators, and indicated to them where to sign. Today, it is he, the parish priest, who asks the parish to finance a project. And in the last instance, it is the factory that decides.

The choice of the fresco was not easy. It was necessary that each believer be able to recognize himself in the drawing, without any cult being highlighted. Respect all traditions, without hurting the spirituality of each. After long and sometimes stormy discussions, it was finally the motif of Jerusalem that was chosen. On the wall of the interreligious space of the Mercy hospital in Metz, the Holy City spreads out, luminous, in the gradient of ocher tones of the sand, the dry earth of the houses and the sun. In the center shines a star which irradiates the city and makes the dust fly. Is it God? Which ? We do not know. Everyone will find their answer there.

Five chaplains from five denominations

It is in this silent room, at the entrance to the hospital, that believers of all faiths, patients, staff members or visitors, Jews, Christians or Muslims can come and gather at any time. Above all, five chaplains from five denominations lead it, and have been working together since 2015.

Admittedly, at the start, they only adapted to the circumstances: only one room was allocated to them, and it was necessary to share. But gradually, the chaplains got organized. Throughout the day, everyone works separately. Alain Obrecht, a Catholic deacon, visits the sick who request it with his chaplaincy team, like Cynthia Zeni, a Protestant chaplain. Both also offer listening and a spiritual presence to people, whatever their beliefs. As for the Jewish, Orthodox and Muslim chaplains, they go to the hospital on request.

A great celebration of brotherhood

But, once a year, all the chaplaincies get together to organize a big brotherhood party in the hall. The hospital management makes a speech, and each chaplain invites musicians. One year, a Gospel group came, and the pastor made the public sing. The parish choir, of which the deacon is a member, never misses an opportunity to perform. On the Muslim and Jewish sides, an Arab-Andalusian group and the Chalom choir came this year. Everyone takes care that the songs are not too religious, and especially that the content does not resemble a call to prayer. This year, André Jacquemot, an Orthodox priest, simply regretted that his choir, where Ukrainians and Russians sang together, declined the invitation because of the war in Ukraine.

Twice a year too, the chaplaincies recite a prayer together, broadcast live on the hospital channel. Each chaplain says one in his tradition, then all recite another together.

Sometimes there are disagreements, as when the Protestant chaplain formally objected to the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the common space. “She feared it would become a chapel,” remembers Alan. Advised by a friendly priest, the deacon then had the brilliant idea of ​​getting an ambon, a tabernacle and an altar on wheels, to take them out only for the offices.

The hospital, a place of interreligious dialogue

During these years, Alain Obrecht became aware that, henceforth, he always made his decisions with his colleagues from other religions in mind. Cynthia Zeni believes that the hospital is the ideal place to practice dialogue. “This is where we find the human being in his fragility and vulnerability, she points out. All barriers and all prejudices can fall. »

As for André Jacquemot, he did not at all consider interreligious dialogue as a priority before this chaplaincy. “I really hold on to my Orthodox way of being a Christianhe said firmly, before pausing. I care about it more than the apple of my eye. » The attempts at dialogue he had known before had not convinced him. But in the hospital, what was difficult became easier. “We are all here to be close to those who suffer, to bring them consolation with the help of God. » He recognizes it: “Here we can have a fruitful dialogue. »


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