The three challenges of Mgr Luc Crepy, new bishop of Versailles

Sociologically, culturally and religiously, few places in France seem as opposed as Le Chesnay and Trappes. On the one hand, the upscale outskirts of Versailles with its many scout groups and where a third of the population goes to mass every Sunday. On the other hand, a suburb known to be difficult, until recently in the media spotlight for accusations of Islamist separatism.

→ ANALYSIS. Mgr Luc Crepy, new bishop of Versailles

And yet, both Trappes and Le Chesnay are two towns of Yvelines, and depend on the same diocese, that of Versailles. “It is the department of all contrasts, attests Mgr Bruno Valentin, auxiliary bishop since 2019. The bishop of Versailles must be all-terrain, as comfortable in a traditional liturgy as in a mass punctuated by African songs. ” For the attention of his new bishop, Mgr Luc Crepy, Mgr Valentin allows himself a piece of advice: “Get a taste of this diversity as quickly as possible, before summer. “

The bishop will be able to discover there communities full of life and dynamic, especially where Christians are in the minority, but who expect a lot from him, asking for support and pastoral enthusiasm. “Our first request of the bishop is that he come to us! “, We are assured everywhere in the Yvelines, both in affluent areas and in working-class areas.

► Highlight the faith of working-class neighborhoods

Installed in the diocese of Yvelines since last September, Sister Bernadette Diarra, of the congregation of the Daughters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Bamako (Mali), did not “Not at all felt out of place when you arrived”. And for good reason : during major celebrations, it’s really party time like in Africa! ” A reality far from the usual clichés on the diocese of Versailles. Admittedly, if this one shelters the city of Louis XIV, it is also that of zones with multiple nationalities, more often associated with radical Islam than with Catholicism. As in Trappes, recently accused of being the epicenter of Muslim communalism, where precisely the Malian nun lives.

Pastor of Sartrouville, Father Xavier Chavane is a privileged observer of the diverse reality of the department. “This city is a compendium of all the variety of Yvelines”, he smiles. There, a few RER stations from the center of Paris, bourgeois districts and HLM bars come together a few tens of meters away. For the priest, this reality of Christianity in working-class neighborhoods should not be forgotten – without being idealized – when the diocese of Versailles is mentioned.

Just like Sister Diarra who is delighted to have discovered in Trappes “A Church always in search of the other”, Father Chavane sees real assets in the experience of the Christians of cities. “One of the characteristics of parishes in popular cities, he greets, it is because their way of celebrating Christ makes you want to meet him. ” His young vicar, Father Daniel Le, abounds, not without humor: “Here, I discovered that Mass could be evangelizing! “

This does not mean that the situation of Christians is idyllic in these difficult cities. Even if this seems less important than in the past, indicates the parish priest of Sartrouville, a certain pressure can be exerted on young Christians so that they convert to Islam. This is especially true when young people do not have a solid catechetical training and find themselves helpless when tested on their knowledge by their Muslim peers. “The context is not easy and one of the challenges is to help children and young people not to be ashamed of the gospel and of their faith”, sums up Father Le.

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To encourage these young people, the new bishop of Versailles could be keen to develop bridges between parish communities, giving them the comfort of not being alone in believing and showing to the other inhabitants of the diocese the fervor which animates the parishes of the cities. There have already been occasional exchanges between parishes, as when parishioners from a particularly difficult city came to animate mass in an otherwise more affluent residential suburb.

The movement should not be a one-way street, however. This is how Bishop Valentin would like to succeed in “Share the wealth very localized ” that the committed laity represent. In other words, he would like to rely on the commitment of the faithful – important in certain places such as Versailles, Chatou or Saint-Germain-en-Laye – to allow the most difficult areas of the diocese to constitute a true ecclesial fabric. , at the service of the locals.

► Take care of your young clergy

“I am 51 years old, there are 80 priests younger than me in the diocese”, laughs Father Pierre Bothuan, parish priest of Houdan, on the border with Eure-et-Loir. A unique situation in France. With an average age of 52, the Versailles clergy is significantly younger than that of the rest of France, by around a quarter of a century.

To explain this particularity, Father Matthieu Dupont, director of the Versailles seminary, notably highlights the faith of families – “The grace of a vocation comes from the grace of an environment where it can blossom” – and the importance of scouting. He does not hide it, moreover, almost all of the seminarians come from areas where “family” Catholicism is most anchored. This richness led Versailles to open its own seminary – only undergraduate, however – in 2006, not without causing some irritation in neighboring dioceses at the time.

The three challenges of Mgr Luc Crepy, new bishop of Versailles

This vocational dynamism should not, however, mask the difficulties experienced by the presbytery in recent years. Some priests burned out, some left the diocese, voluntarily or not, while others left the priesthood, again voluntarily or not. “After years without a shock, we suddenly experienced fragility”, modestly testifies Father Bothuan. And according to the director of the diocesan seminary, the youth of the clergy could have been a handicap, the senior priests not being numerous enough to bring the weight of their maturity.

Linked to heterogeneous reasons, these departures called into question the relationship between priests and their bishop. “Our presbytery has gone through an acute crisis of trust and governance, especially in relation to the bishop”, recognizes Mgr Bruno Valentin, appointed auxiliary bishop in 2019, in particular to ease tensions. Some priests can also have particularly harsh words towards their former bishop, against a background of accusations of personal disinterest and lack of recognition. For Bishop Valentin, “A change in managerial culture” was thus necessary.

But for many, the change must also come from the clergy, unanimously described as “Legitimist”. ” That’s a quality, underlines Father Dupont, but it can become a weakness when it prevents disagreements from being said. “ For the priest, “We should perhaps invent a fair dissension, allow ourselves to say things”. Without, he adds immediately, “Lose the spirit of service and dedication. Towards the bishop and towards the people of God ”.

► Maintain the momentum of evangelization

Even before the election of Pope Francis and his calls for a “Missionary transformation” of the Church, the Diocese of Versailles has particularly emphasized the duty of evangelization of Christians. In the wake of the diocesan synod of 2010-2011, a School was created to serve evangelization (ESE).

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If the diocese sometimes has the image to be a high place of French Catholicism, this does not mean that the mission has no place there. ” VSike everywhere, the Gospel needs to be announced with boldness and charity ”, smiles Geneviève Guilhem-Ducléon, one of the two persons in charge of the ESE. In support of this assertion, a figure: the number of practicing Catholics in the department is estimated at 5%. “There is room for improvement! “, assures Frédéric Deren, the other responsible. All occasions are good for proclaiming Christ. The ESE was thus able to train a funeral team. “The objective was to find the right words to announce the kerygma to families struck by mourning”, explain the two volunteers.

The missionary mentality of the Yvelinois is not limited to its dedicated service. In Trappes, where the population is three quarters Muslim, the proclamation of the Gospel is also done at the Sainte-Marie school. Without being a proselyte, the establishment whose 330 students represent the diversity of the city, in no way diminishes its Catholic identity. “All parents know that there is a very explicit announcement of the faith here”, insists the director, Magali Ménard.

The secret of this peaceful missionary presence when the city is often seen as a hotbed of radical Islam? The commitment of parents and the teaching team for the success of the children. Which allows, promises the principal, to make school “A meeting place where faith is lived in a joyful and uninhibited way”.


The diocese of Versailles: 1.5 million inhabitants, 75 parishes

The diocese of Versailles has approximately 1.5 million inhabitants, spread over 75 parishes. It has about 180 priests, 40 permanent deacons and thousands of volunteers involved at different levels of Church service.

A sign of the vocational vitality of the diocese, the Yvelines have around twenty seminarians in formation. In addition, nine young men are currently engaged in a propaedeutic year. This dynamism made it possible to reopen in 2006 an undergraduate diocesan seminary, although it had been closed since 1972.

In this diocese of all contrasts, Catholic practice ranges from 30% in certain districts of Versailles to less than 1% in entire areas.


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