The majority of the population is Christian, by far the largest number belonging to the Catholic faith (around 62 per cent of the population) and a mere 2 per cent Protestants. The second-largest religious group is Muslims (6 per cent), mostly immigrants from North Africa, and France is home to some 700,000 Jews – both groups being the targets of bigotry and racism. Details of mosques in France can be found on http://mosquee.free.fr and a list of synagogues on www.pagesjaunes.fr (enter Synagogues in the first box and then the name of the town where you’re looking for a synagogue).
Religious observance is declining and attendance at mass has dropped to around 15 per cent (attendance is lowest in Paris and among those aged 18 to 35). Only some 50 per cent of marriages are consecrated in a church and 60 per cent of babies baptised. Parish priests have lost much of their traditional influence and there’s a serious shortage of recruits for the priesthood. Few French people are atheists, although many are agnostics. The most important religious shrine in France is that of Our Lady at Lourdes, which receives hundreds of thousands of visitors every year in search of a miracle cure.
Church and state were officially divorced in 1905 and direct funding of the church by the state is illegal, which means that many churches are in poor repair. The Catholic church is prominent in education, where it maintains many private schools separate from the state education system, although largely funded by the state. An attempt to abolish state funding for religious schools by the Socialists in the ‘80s generated fierce opposition and was quickly abandoned.
For information about local places of worship and service times, contact your local town hall or tourist information office. Churches and religious centres are listed in the yellow pages under Eglises and Cultes, and include American and English churches in Paris and other major cities. There are over 50 Anglican churches in France, and details of English-language services throughout France (and indeed the world) are contained in the Directory of English-Speaking Churches Abroad, published by the Intercontinental Church Society (01926-430347, www.ics-uk.org).
This article is an extract from Living and working in France. Click here to get a copy now.