Tomorrow afternoon, Pope Benedict will give a lecture in Paris to representatives of the world of culture (philosophy, science, art…) and of political and public life (the European Union, Unesco…). The lecture will be given at the Collège des Bernardins, a medieval building which was the Cistercians’ student house at the University of Paris until the French Revolution, after which it became a salt warehouse, then a school and, finally, a barracks for the Sapeurs pompiers (- Paris firefighters are considered as being part of the Army).
I first heard of the most recent change-of-use for this building during the homily given by Archbishop Vingt-Trois at Cardinal Lustiger’s funeral. So far, this fascinating project has received very little coverage in English-speaking media. One of the Cardinal’s last projects, its aim was to transform this beautiful building into a centre for the dialogue between faith and culture. After five years of work, the College des Bernardins re-opened last week, having undergone a 50 million euro facelift, funded by the French Government, the City of Paris, the Diocese of Paris, companies which acted as private sponsors and individual benefactors.
As well as being a centre for lectures, conferences and exhibitions, the building will be the new home of the Ecole Cathedrale (Cathedral School), set up by Cardinal Lustiger in 1984 as a centre of formation both for the seminarians of Paris and the general public. It will also house the newly founded Institut Jean-Marie Lustiger, whose aim is to promote the thought of the late Cardinal.
The present Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, paid tribute to his successor’s vision for the Collège des Bernardins in his opening address (in French) last Friday. He summarised the basis for the project in these words:The conviction which moves us to launch this vast project is as follows: Christian Wisdom, which flows from the Jewish tradition and the writings of the New Testament, has something to add to the debates of our time.
The website of the Collège des Bernardins carries a huge mass of interesting information, but seems at the moment to offer it only in French. However, for the linguistically challenged, there are also some good photographs and videos. It gives an immediate sense of the scale of the project, not just in terms of building works but also in relation to the breadth of its programme. You can find a somewhat secular summary of the project (in English) on the website of one of its corporate sponsors, Foncière des Régions. A Vatican Radio interview (again in French) with the Cultural Director of the Collège des Bernardins, Vincent Aucante, carries not only an introduction to the centre but also some very interesting observations on that most French of preoccupations, Laïcité (-in English, we don’t even have a word for it), and how this project shows the positive change in attitudes to the question of Laïcité in contemporary France. For those Catholic bloggers who delight in despairing about the future of the Church in France, the Collège des Bernardins is yet another sign of hope.
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