"No-one has a monopoly on transcendence"
Itʹs Saturday evening in the heart of the 4th Arrondissement in Paris. The central district of the Marais hums with bars, people, colourful lights, music clubs and Parisʹ vibrant artistsʹ and gay scenes. A few metres away is the Rue de Rivoli, a retail magnet for both locals and the endless masses of tourists who have streamed into the French metropolis for Pentecost weekend.
Amid the noise sits the Roman Catholic parish church of Saint Merry. Erected in the early 16th century in the late Gothic style, Saint Merry is located on the site of a 7th century chapel where Saint Medericus was buried in the 700s. The church was closed during the French Revolution of 1789 and misused – suffering considerable damage – as a saltpetre factory. And yet it survived.
Today, it is one of the most progressive and lively congregations in the city. Bold art exhibitions, provocative ideas and unconventional ways of thinking have all found their home here. Located in the direct vicinity of the Centre Pompidou and contemporary culture, a place like this could hardly be closer to the world at large.
The unique congregation describes itself thus: "In the heart of Paris, where people of all backgrounds and generations meet, where an appetite for culture and leisure are next-door neighbours to poverty and marginalisation, where crowds and loneliness clash, the door to the church of Saint Merry is always open."
Saint Merry is also characterised by its openness to interfaith exchange. The Nuit Sacree originated here four years ago. A musical and cultural event spanning the night of Pentecost Sunday into Whit-Monday, the Nuit Sacree brings together different artists from the traditional, spiritual and world music genres. It was launched in 2016 as a joint project between the congregation of Saint Merry and the Coexister initiative.
Coexister is an interdenominational movement of young people called to foster peaceful relations between people of any belief or none. The initiative defines its focus as "interconvictionnel" in French, expanding the interfaith dimension to include any form of belief or conviction: religious people of all denominations, as well as atheists and agnostics. Coexister is a perfect fit for the Saint Merry congregation, which views its calling to be truly anchored in the local community and society as a whole – with all its facets.
The motto for this yearʹs Nuit Sacree was "Un message de paix", welcoming artists and members of religious orders with the aim of promoting peace and singing out a message of hope. In doing so, the Nuit Sacree 2019 hoped to use fewer technological resources to achieve a more intimate version of the event than in previous years.
Laurent Grzybowski, co-founder and moderator of the Nuit Sacree is himself an "intercultural mediator". A journalist, musician and lecturer, he engages medially, artistically and socially in building bridges in his district – the 15th Arrondissement.
During this yearʹs Nuit Sacree he told Qantara.de, "This congregation regards itself as ʹcatholicʹ in the truest sense, because in the original Greek, ʹcatholicʹ means ʹuniversalʹ. The universalism of Saint Merry is really evident here, it strives to organise events of openness. Openness towards contemporary culture, towards religions, world cultures and humanity in all its diversity."
Grzybowski stressed that this mission – to take a stand against the imposition of walls and barbed wire fences – has become all the more important in the face of current political and social rifts and the palpable shift to the right. Against the background of the refugee crisis, the event has also become a focus for people seeking to resist isolationist politics.