Christians in Public Life • A Weekly Reflection with Ozanam

by | Sep 10, 2018 | Formation, Reflections

You may know that in Paris —as in Lyons but for far more plausible reasons— processions are forbidden; but, as some disrupters like Catholicism to be enclosed in the temples of the great cities, this is no reason why young Christians, to whom God has endowed a resolute soul, should be deprived of the moving ceremonies of their religion. For that reason, some have been found thinking to take part in the procession of Nanterre.


Frederic Ozanam, Letter to his mother, June 19, 1833.



  1. In this letter, Ozanam describes to his mother an excursion which, approximately two weeks after the birth of the first Conference of Charity (seed of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul), its members —together with other young believers— made to Nanterre, to attend the processions of the Corpus, June 6, 1833.
  2. A very brief historical context: since 1830, France has been living in the period known as the Monarchy of July. The Monarchy of July began with “The Three Glorious Revolutionary Days of Paris,” on July 27, 28 and 29, 1830, against the government of King Charles X, who took the French throne to Louis Philippe de Orléans, the last king of France. The social environment was contrary to the Catholic Church and to any religious manifestation in the secular realm. In fact, various authorities had banned religious processions (for example, in Paris and Lyon) or ordered crucifixes to be removed from schools.
  3. Frederic and his friends, believers, without fear of publicly expressing their faith, find the alternative to participate in the processions of Nanterre (where processions were not prohibited), organizing a trip, half festive, half religious, to this city, situated about 10 miles from Paris.
  4. Negative secularism is not a novelty of our times. We can already see, in this letter from Frederic, that “as some disrupters like Catholicism to be enclosed in the temples of the great cities,” is not enough reason for believers to be “deprived of the moving ceremonies of their religion.” We must note that secularism is a current of thought that defends the existence of a society organized independently, or away of religious confessions. This is not negative and, moreover, it is advisable. A secular state is non-denominational, which does not imply that it does not recognize the value of transcendence, but remains impartial to any religion and collaborates with all.
  5. But there is also an extreme secularism that denies the spiritual dimension of man and strives to eradicate any public presence that manifests it. Extreme cases are lived in totalitarian countries that any of us can easily identify. Frederic lived this kind of secularism, and some of us may also live in our societies.
  6. This is a complex issue and would require much more space to develop it. However, let us stay with two ideas: (1) We believers should not feel ashamed of our faith and, from it, we have the duty to contribute to the social community, humbly, with the values ​​we live and defend; and (2) Society must welcome and recognize the spiritual dimension of mankind, who is lived, in one way or another, by the vast majority of the world’s population; without identifying with any, it is the duty of the State to collaborate with all confessions, because in all there are permanent values ​​and seeds of the Kingdom of God.

Questions for dialogue:

  1. Does my faith have a public dimension? That is: Am I ashamed to be a Christian?
  2. In what ways do we collaborate, from our institutions and groups, in social development?
  3. Do we respect the beliefs of others, just as we want our own to be respected?
  4. Is our presence in society more a “gesture” presence or more an “action” presence? To put it another way: Do we simply stay in a mere manifestation of religious acts in public spaces or does our faith lead us to participate actively in society and its improvement?
  5. Do we participate, in any way, in the dialogue between faith and culture?
  6. Do we care to train ourselves to know how “to give reason for our faith”?

Javier F. Chento
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