The sign of Saint Merry’s

In Les Halles de Beaubourg, the old Parisian farmers’ market, completely redone in the 1970s and turned into the commercial, cultural and artistic heart of contemporary Paris, there is a singular jewel: Saint Merry’s, a beautiful gothic church from the 16th century, in flamboyant style, called “the little Notre-Dame”. It is a museum of architecture, sculpture, painting and stained-glass windows, a must-see tourist monument. It is a center of Catholic worship, with Sunday Mass for a twenty-some older persons, scattered on the pews.

But Saint Merry’s Church at Les Halles de Beaubourg, almost adjacent to Pompidou Centre –an emblem of intercultural rendezvous and an icon of Parisian cultural modernity- is much more than an artistic monument and a temple-museum of traditional Catholic cult. It is a living place, full of spirit and humanity. It is an open church, without inside/outside, sacred/profane, believer/non-believer borders. It is a church where papers in order are not important, nor is religion, or orthodox doctrine, or sexual orientation, or gender identity. It is a place for Christians, but also for all sorts of people, to meet: workers, students, intellectuals, outcasts, homosexuals, transexuals, seekers and practitioners of different religions, defenders of Palestine, of immigrants, of tramps… And a meeting place for musicians and artists, and a concert hall, and a place for creators and art exhibit.

Humanity is its creed. Embracing others is its cult. Creativity is its sign. And on Sundays, after the parish Mass, about 200 and 300 people from everywhere get together for another type of Mass, the celebration –most carefully prepared by volunteers during the week- of the memory of Jesus, sharing the word, bread and wine –life- in no rush, around a long table where the priest participates but does not preside over. And all that with a new language, easy to understand for everybody, like in Pentecost. Can we say more? It is the symbol of a Church being transformed in a Paris being transformed, in a world being transformed.

But I do not know if I should have said “is” or “was”. This is where my grief begins. Indeed, Saint Merry’s Pastoral Center –let’s say the ecclesial community- located in that church has just been abruptly closed by a crushing decree issued by Paris Archbishop, Monsignor Aupetit. An Archbishop, the great François Marty, council father in Vatican II, opened it in 1975, just like other similar centers of the alternative Church in Paris, what a time of postcouncil breeze were those years! Another Archbishop, 46 years later, turning his back to that spirit of church renovation, has just closed it on March 1st. His reasons are excuses. Period. How much bishops and times and seminaries have changed! So, this was Pope Francis’s spring… we are getting the message.

About one month ago, some friends in Paris, members of the Community, sent me the bishop’s letter announcing his irrevocable decision. I was astonished and felt a deep sorrow for the Community and its truncated project. Yet, it is not a time for laments but for serious thinking and a serene decision.

I consider the 46 years of Saint Merry’s Community as a true incarnation –though not the only one- of the new Church of which Council Vatican II (1962-1965) gave us no more than just a glimpse. This Council was a potent catalyst of the best desires for reform, in spite of arriving late and its documents being ambiguous, even the best ones, due to reaching the necessary consensus. Bishops, priests, theologians, countless women and men religious, and above all, numerous base communities and movements in Europe and Latin America opened up their doors, breathed a new breeze and dreamed about a new Church that would be converted to the Gospel and to the present world, compasionate, opened to dialogue and liberation, allied with the impoverished, a Church with no clergy or laity, sister of all Churches and religions, and of all men and women who live by the Spirit beyond all temples, dogmas and religions.

Then, whatever had to happen, it happened very quickly. Actually, the spring of Vatican II lasted just two decades. First, Paul VI’s doubts came. Afterwards, in 1978, it was John Paul II’s seamless certainties: it was necessary to redirect all those fickelnesses suggested by the Council for the counter-reformist dogmas of Trent (strict contemporary of the building of Saint Merry’s church) and for the countermodernist doctrine of Vatican I in the XIX century.

The closing of Saint Merry’s Community Center is the last sign of failure of Council Vatican II, and a clear sign of the road towards the ruin of the Catholic Church started on by the Polish Pope (1978-2005) and his thinking head, Joseph Ratzinger, first as Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (1981-2005) and then his successor as Pope Benedict XVI (2005-2013).

And Pope Francis? Next week it will be 8 years since he became Pope. Eight years to carry out an uncertain reform of the Vatican Curia: cardinals substitute for other cardinals, cleric by cleric. Eight years to organize three Sinods with cardinals, archbishops and bishops, with a handful of lay people invited as listeners. Eight years to, for the first time, appoint a woman as subsecretary of the next Sinod –sharing the post with an augustinian man-religious- and to, for the first time, give the right to vote to a woman in that assambly of bishops and cardinals. That is it. The basics of the anachronic conceptual, moral and institutional apparatus is exactly as it was before. Clericalism continues being in full force, the hierarchical pyramid is untouched with the absolute papacy as its foundation and summit.

Clericalism is at the root of the conflict of Saint Merry’s Center which has caused its closing. Ultimately, power resides on a parish priest appointed by the bishop appointed, in turn, by the pope. A clerical world of men clerics. I do not blame anyone. The system is the key to the problem.

Friends of Saint Merry’s Community, from where I am I give you all my support and encouragement, my gratitude above all. And my best wishes: may you continue creating and may you be able to continue encouraging life as the Spirit best inspires you, there or in another place, may you continue being faithful to the memory of the paschal novelty, free from any tutelage, powers and clerical keys, just like Jesus was. May you live in peace.

Aizarna, March 7th, 2021

Translated by Mertxe de Renobales Scheifler