Yellow Vest Protests Test English-Speaking Catholic Church in Paris

Demonstrators wearing yellow vests march down the Champs Elysees holding the French tricolor in Paris, Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018. Prized Paris monuments and normally bustling shopping meccas locked down and tens of thousands of police took position around France. Macron’s government warned that Saturday’s “yellow vest” protests in Paris will be hijacked by “radicalized and rebellious” crowds and become the most dangerous yet after three weeks of demonstrations. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)/TH117/18342382501083/1812081140

Avenue Hoche, one of the tree-lined roads radiating out from the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, seems like an ideal place to locate a church for foreigners. An oasis in the city’s chic 8th District, it’s close to the Champs Élysées and the pleasant western neighborhoods that expats prefer.

But that location also put the street in the middle of France’s often turbulent politics, as St. Joseph’s, the parish for English-speaking Catholics in Paris, has learned several times since it opened there in 1869.

The “yellow vest” protests rocking the French capital for the past four Saturdays have filled Avenue Hoche with roving bands of angry demonstrators and riot police firing volleys of tear gas to disperse them.

More protests have been called for this weekend.

Parked cars and motorcycles have been burned to the right of the church entrance. The supermarket to the left was looted. Protesters have at times taken over the church’s backyard or sat down on its front steps and plaza for a rest.

During the past four weekends of protests, though, St. Joseph’s has stayed open, holding all its scheduled Masses, four baptisms and a short Advent retreat.

The Rev. Aidan Troy preaches to a large congregation during Sunday Mass at St. Joseph’s Church on Dec. 9, 2018, near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. RNS photo by Tom Heneghan

A youth group prepared 200 lunch bags for the homeless and went to distribute them with wet handkerchiefs over their noses against the tear gas.

Blocked streets and closed metro stations mean attendance has fallen off somewhat, but parish life has gone on. Some parishioners who couldn’t get to church followed services on its YouTube channel.

The Rev. Aidan Troy, the Irish Passionist who has headed St. Joseph’s since 2008, faced a sparse congregation at early Mass on Dec. 2 after the worst rioting of the protest series went late into the previous night.

He drew on an Irish saying — “This is the morning after the night before” — as he thanked worshippers for coming, noting that some of them might feel on edge due to the protests.

“There’s always the danger that people get scared,” he said. Noting that his previous assignment had been in Belfast, he added: “We don’t run scared.”

The yellow vest protesters, many of them rural working poor facing rising taxes amid stagnating wages, have brought their grievances to Paris and forced the government to roll back some planned tax increases.

Among the thousands of protesters have been hundreds of local anarchists who donned the same vests to melt into the crowds and then loot, burn and clash with police.

Some angry yellow vesters joined in the violence and, especially on Dec. 2, the police were clearly overwhelmed. Almost twice as many security forces turned out on Dec. 8 and stood their ground, but central Paris was still paralyzed.

Parishioners who’ve managed to reach St. Joseph’s often found blocked streets and closed metro stations along their way.

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Source: Religion News Service