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What draws Parisians to this vibrant Catholic church?



Eglise Saint Louis d'Antin, Paris.

Eléonore de Vulpillières - published on 07/15/22

Saint-Louis d'Antin is a lively parish, a place of meditation, formation and prayer. It is one of the most frequented churches in Paris.

No matter what time of day you go there, you are never alone in Saint-Louis d’Antin, a parish located not far from the Saint-Lazare train station. You can enter by the rue du Havre or the rue Caumartin, in a district rich in shops and offices. The contrast between the bustle outside and the peace found inside the church between two Masses is striking.

The atmosphere is conducive to recollection, as Josephine, who works in a local business and regularly goes there during her lunch break, confirms: “I often come to put down my joys and sorrows. Often, I come to deposit my joys and sorrows with Jesus in the middle of my work day. It may only last 10 minutes. But I’m always happy to take that spiritual break, to reconnect with God in this beautiful and peaceful place.”

A visit to Saint-Louis is a good way to start my day, to offer it to God. There is no better place to pray than in a church!

As for Charlotte, a student at a nearby high school, she goes once or twice a week before going to class. “A visit to Saint-Louis is a good way to start my day, to offer it to God. There is no better place to pray than in a church! Even though this year has been difficult sometimes, since I have to prepare for exams, it is essential for me to come here to pray or attend a weekday Mass.” She also mentions one of the side chapels that she particularly loves: the one with the statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague, which is less than 50 centimeters tall. Devotion to this small statue that embodies the childhood of Christ spread throughout Europe in the 19th century. For Charlotte, “It’s a way to remember the simplicity and purity of Jesus as a child.” And she is not the only one to think so, since this little chapel is the most frequented in the church.

Masses and confessions in abundance

Seven Masses are celebrated at Saint-Louis every day during the week, and five Masses are offered on weekends. Father Antoine Devienne is beginning his fourth year as pastor of Saint-Louis d’Antin. His parish is a mix of regulars and those who come especially for confessions or the many Masses. “They know they will find a priest. It is the parish in Paris where there are the most confessions, and for a long time. That’s what touches them,” he explains. And for good reason, he spends about 14 hours a week in confession. “This continuous priestly presence attracts the faithful. Some even come to thank the priests for being there and ‘doing what they do.'”

Defined by its pastor as a “place of spiritual direction,” St. Louis d’Antin Church is not a traditional parish. There are few baptisms and funerals, and no weddings. It functions more like a shrine than a traditional parish. “We want to develop that appeal that is unique to the shrine.” In the late 1950s, the territory of the parish — which had existed since 1802 — was shrunk to less than a thousand inhabitants. Today, the ratio of priests per capita is gigantic in St. Louis!” Eight priests, including a student priest, keep this dynamic parish going.

During the COVID-19 quarantines of 2020 and 2021, the public transportation lines that built the parish community had become a hindrance to the parish’s outreach. “The impact of COVID on our parish life was very strong, since the lockdowns made it impossible for 95% of the people to get to the church, which was therefore closed for a time,” explains the parish priest, who believes that in 2022 the population is still worried. “I see it in the wearing of masks in church: although it has no longer been mandatory for several weeks, one out of three parishioners wears it.”

A rich cultural life

The Bernanos Center, created in the parish in 1994, which offers cultural activities for all, is starting up again. Plays — at the moment Polyeucte by Corneille is being performed — film screenings, concerts, conferences are all Christian-inspired events, but they reach a public that goes far beyond practicing Catholics. According to Father Devienne, there is some difficulty in bringing together the two populations, those who go to Mass and those who go to the Bernanos Center. His wish is precisely to bring about more exchanges between these two communities.

One amusing detail: a little more than 150 years ago, in August 1871, Marcel Proust was baptized in Saint-Louis-d’Antin. But in this church, time is not lost, nor a fortiori found. It is stretched. The dynamism in the organization of confessions and the Eucharist, and its wide opening hours make it a unique place in Paris. It is a beacon of prayer in the bustle of the Chaussée d’Antin.

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