A quest before the office: Emmanuel Macron announced on Friday a subscription to restore thousands of religious buildings in danger and defended his participation, contested on the left, in the giant mass of Pope Francis in Marseille in a week.

From the collegiate church of Semur-en-Auxois, in Côte-d’Or, a Gothic masterpiece whose preservation is precisely difficult for this town of 4,200 inhabitants, the Head of State launched a collection “to mobilize 200 million euros over four years.

Out of 50,000 places of worship in France, around 2,500 to 3,000 buildings, mainly churches, are in a state that raises fears for their preservation. For the most part, they belong to small municipalities for whom “these investments are unsustainable”, recalled Emmanuel Macron.

“This fuels a feeling of indignation among many of our elected officials and our residents because there is an attachment to this heritage, whether we believe it or not,” he said.

This collection will therefore only be intended for municipalities with less than 10,000 inhabitants (20,000 overseas). Donations can be made on the Heritage Foundation website and will be tax deductible at 75% (instead of 66%) within the limit of 1,000 euros, as was the case for the reconstruction of Notre-Dame de Paris .

A detail which aims “also, between the lines, to tell the big fortunes” that “the issue is at the same level of importance”, slipped to AFP the Minister of Culture, Rima Abdul-Malak, on the sidelines of the Burgundian movement, adding to hope that the richest “will understand this message for themselves”.

Organizer of this subscription, the Heritage Foundation will select the projects “according to the heritage interest of the building, the urgency and also the question of the use which must be open to concerts, exhibitions, conferences”, explained to AFP its president Guillaume Poitrinal.

“This corresponds to a reality, and meets needs,” Gautier Mornas, head of the Sacred Art department of the Conference of Bishops of France, told AFP.

For Edouard de Lamaze, president of the Religious Heritage Observatory, the value of these buildings “goes far beyond the religious framework, and is part of the daily life, the past and the future of the French”.

This collection is in addition to the Heritage Loto, embodied for five years by host Stéphane Bern. In five years, 230 million euros have been collected for the benefit of 862 projects according to the Elysée. The president also went in the afternoon to the Château de Bussy-Rabutin, winner of the first edition of this lottery in 2018.

According to the Elysée, the date of these announcements is linked to Heritage Days this weekend and follows commitments made by the president during his visit to Mont-Saint-Michel on June 5.

No link therefore with the visit next week of Pope Francis to Marseille, according to the presidency. Faced with criticism from the left, Emmanuel Macron defended his decision to attend the mass that the pope will give on September 23.

“I consider it my place to go. I will not go as a Catholic, I will go as President of the Republic which is in fact secular. I myself will not have religious practice during of this mass”, he justified.

Emmanuel Macron recalled that the Pope had the rank of head of state and that his presence did not call into question the neutrality of the State. “The State is neutral. Public services are neutral and we preserve the school too,” he added, in an allusion to the ban in schools on the abaya, a loose dress worn by students. Muslim women.

As of Wednesday, the possibility of him attending this mass, the high point of the papal visit, had sparked indignant criticism from the left.

“No, Mr. President. It is not your place to go to the Pope’s mass. To welcome him upon his arrival and even upon his departure: yes, of course. But the secular State neither recognizes nor subsidizes no cult”, said rebellious leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon on the X network (formerly Twitter). “No religious ceremony for an elected official in France”.

The presence at a papal mass is a first for a French head of state since that celebrated in 1980 by John Paul II on the square of Notre-Dame in Paris in the presence of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing.

In June 2017, shortly after his first election, Emmanuel Macron participated in the annual iftar (fast-breaking dinner) of the French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM), the representative body of France’s second religion.

15/09/2023 19:05:49 –         Paris (AFP) –         © 2023 AFP