In an attempt to regain its influence on the secularized French society, the Roman Catholic Church launched a weeklong “congress of evangelism” across Paris, on Oct. 24, 2004. Over 500 conferences, concerts, exhibitions, debates and pilgrimages have been planned for the Congress, which is set to culminate on All Souls and All Saints Day, Nov. 1.
According to the Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the archbishop of Paris, the Congress is a response to the emptiness of modern city life. In an interview with the Catholic Daily La Croix, Lustiger described the city life as "seductive and fascinating" on the one hand, but marked by a "formidable impoverishment of human relations" on the other.
"The big city, so brilliant and noisy, is a place of loneliness, and an affective desert for many," the Cardinal said. "Our society does not know where it is going."
The church is mobilizing “not only to break the loneliness of many and create more sociability amid the anonymity of the city, but also to share its treasures will all those whom it has often dealt with only at a distance,” he added.
The French society had long-since been moving away from religious and Christian influences; this year, the French government banned all forms of religious symbols – including crosses – from being worn at public schools. The French had also adamantly opposed the inclusion of the reference of God in the European Constitution.
According to the Catholic Church in France, 77.5 percent of French citizens are Christian, but attendance had been falling dramatically. Within the Catholic Church, the number of ordained priests has declined from 31,500 to 23,500 within one decade.
The ten-day Congress, therefore, is meant to act as a dynamic “call to faith” to awaken both the layman and the future clergy.
The central point for the activities is a 55-foot wooden cross, which was constructed on the square of the Notre Dame Cathedral specifically for the Congress.
A similar “congress of evangelism” was held last year in Vienna, and is set for Lisbon in 2005, Brussels in 2006, and Budapest in 2007.