The separation of church and state, also known as laïcité in France, has been a sensitive topic lately. In the name of this principle, Macron’s government recently banned wearing the abaya in school. With this piece of clothing, students will show that they are Islamic, even though it is not exactly a religious symbol. The leftist opposition believes that Macron’s meeting with the Pope is evidence of double standards.
I respect faith and people who have faith. “But I do not agree with an elected official, especially the president, participating in a religious ceremony in his official capacity,” said MP Alexis Corbiere of the left-wing La France Insoumise party. Fabien Roussel, leader of the Communist Party, agrees: “The president should not show a preference for a particular doctrine.”
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Martin Albers is a general correspondent for De Volkskrant.
Macron does not care about appearances. He grew up in a secular family, but was baptized at his own request when he was twelve years old, and attended Jesuit school for several years. Shortly after assuming the office of president, he called for closer relations between the Catholic Church and the French state. A parliamentary debate on euthanasia has been postponed until after Francis’ visit, to avoid an uncomfortable conversation on the subject with the Church Fathers.
Macron himself does not see his participation in the Mass, which will be held on Saturday afternoon at the Velodrome stadium in front of an audience of tens of thousands of people, as a problem. “I feel that this is the right place for me to go there. I will come forward not as a Catholic, but as president of the secular republic. He promised not to practice his religion during Mass and not to accept a host.
The Pope also did his best in advance to downplay the importance of the meeting and made it clear that it was not an official state visit: “I am going to Marseille, not to France.” The main reason for his visit to the southern French city was to attend a meeting of bishops and young people on Mediterranean problems, such as migration.
Since taking office, Francis has repeatedly spoken critically about the treatment of migrants. He did it again on Saturday. He stressed that migrants “do not invade, but rather ask for hospitality,” and called on European countries to assume their responsibility. Francis said France’s focus on absorbing migrants “does not take differences into account.” There he can shake hands with opponents of the abaya ban.
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