18 June 2005

The American Cathedral of Paris

The American Cathedral of Paris occupies a beautiful church on avenue George V. It’s an Episcopal church, though they welcome everyone. The church itself has all the regalia you would expect of the Episcopalians. It also had the flags of all US states hanging from pillars above the pews. The people knew one another and gave a single nod to those who slid into seats near them. Visitors were sprinkled here and there. We were the ones staring at the ceiling and walls, and taking it all in.

For the first time since I arrived in Paris, people looked warm. To me, it seems the French have been blessed with perfect metabolisms. Perhaps they’re just small. Most of the french men I’ve seen here appear to weigh 160 pounds at most. Well into June, they can be seen wearing jackets and scarves while I, in shorts and a cotton shirt, sweat like a linebacker. I was surprised to see one man in church, where it was actually sort of cool, wipe his brow. I felt vindicated. Justified. When several people started fanning themselves with their church programs I was elated. It’s not just me!

The guest minister was from Washington, DC. In addition to being a clergyman, he also works with WHO and has been fighting the AIDS pandemic for more than 20 years. He was very interesting and although he had an air about him and was quick to list his lengthy credentials, he was able to deliver a relevant sermon that seemed strong and direct for this audience.

From my own experience working with NGO people and healthcare workers, I’ve noticed they do not mind making people uncomfortable to get their message across. They have looked death and disease in the face and they have a sense of urgency about them that comfortable westerners cannot fully grasp. They don’t have time to sugar-coat things. This chap was also part politician, as is anyone who works in the church. So he delivered his message gracefully, punctuated with sad and gritty illustrations of people he encountered in a world we will likely never know.

I quickly forgot whatever it was he said on Sunday morning, as I crossed the Passerelle Debilly, over the Seine, and wondered what movie I would see that day.

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