World

For France’s Catholics, the coronavirus is another test of their faith

One hundred fifteen years ago, the French parliament passed a law that officially separated church from state in a society that had long been dominated by the power — and sometimes the abuses — of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1905, France became staunchly secular.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

But churches — some ornate and imposing, some small and crumbling — still matter to the French. Forced to close during the country’s spring covid-19 stay-at-home order, they remained open in the second national lockdown, which began in late October, with the caveat that attendance be capped at 30 people. The decision was decried as “contradictory” and “grotesque” by Catholic priests.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Nevertheless, the practice of worshiping has had to adapt for the coronavirus era. From Zoom Masses and funerals to socially distanced communions, photographer Emilienne Malfatto followed the Catholic community in the central city of Lyon.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

A church in Lyon, France.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Father Louis Ferdinand Prandrianjakasoa gets ready to hold Mass online.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Antonia de Miollis (left) and Elodie Jocteur attend an online mass.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

An empty church during coronavirus restrictions.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Employees of a funeral home deliver flowers for a funeral, which was streamed online.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Father Jullien de Pommerol installs a video camera for the funeral service.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

The virus hasn’t just changed the lives of worshipers. The nuns of the Assumption Covent in Lyon have had to adapt their practices after several of them became sick with the virus this year.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

The nuns of the Assumption Covent pray in the chapel.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Anne-Flore, 43, right, and Amelie, 35, two nuns of the Assumption Covent, caught the coronavirus earlier this year.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Anne-Bernard, 86, says she also was sick with the covid-19 this year.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Marie-Jeanne, 72, says her coronavirus test came back negative, but she still had some symptoms.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Last month, France’s Conseil d’État, the country’s highest court, ordered the government to revise the 30-person attendance cap in churches, concluding that it was arbitrary and should take better account of the large sizes of worship.

More sweeping, the Conseil d’État concluded that, even during a public health crisis, the government’s limitations on worship “had seriously and clearly unlawfully violated the fundamental freedom which is the freedom of worship.”

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

French Catholics protest the government's order to limit the number of worshipers in a church to 30 people.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

A priest offers communion.

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post

Emilienne Malfatto for The Washington Post