The Grand Mosque of Reims was inaugurated March 14 in the presence of Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, who joined a host of local authorities, the mosque’s imam as well as a number of foreign financiers of the 3,750-square meter (about 40,000 square feet) complex that lies in the Saint-Anne area of the historic French town.
The Catholic archbishop gave a short speech and even posted his words on his Facebook page, saying he was ‘delighted’ for the Muslim community of Reims.
Reims, a medium-sized provincial town in northeast France, has about 180,000 inhabitants of whom some 37,000 are part of the Muslim community, according to figures quoted by local media in 2014, when the Grand Mosque first opened to worshippers.
Its official inauguration was delayed for nearly five years in order to allow all interested parties and financial backers to take part, once the finishing touches were made. It is the largest mosque in France, built in a highly symbolic location.
Clovis, the first Christian king of the Francs, was a pagan. He was baptized in Reims on Christmas Day somewhere between 496 and 506 (historians differ on this point) by Remi, the saintly bishop of Reims, together with 3,000 warriors. His baptism is considered to be the founding event of what would become the Catholic kingdom of France, at a time when the chiefs of Gaul and most of the bishops favored the Arian heresy.
On the day Clovis was to be received into the Catholic Church, the crowd was so dense that it was impossible to bring the Holy Chrism for the sacrament. Miraculously, a dove… descended toward the baptismal fonts, bringing in its beak of vial of oil, the ‘Sainte Ampoule,’ which has been used since then to anoint the kings of France.
Thirty-five French kings were anointed in Reims up to the 19th century. The 14th-century Cathedral building still stands, beautifully restored despite heavy damage in the First World War. Visitors can admire the spot where St. Joan of Arc stood in 1429, under the the altar on the north side, having unfurled her white banner while Charles the VII was anointed king.
So in a way, the presence of an enormous mosque and cultural center, with a 14-meter-high minaret and room for 2,000 worshippers (more than 1,000 gather there each Friday), appears to many French people as a sort of act of defiance on the part of Islam, which is gaining more strength in secularized France.
The Grand Mosque of Reims was partly financed by gifts from the local Muslim community and a construction loan, but the larger part of the seven million euro project was funded by Kuwait and Qatar, whose representatives joined the local imam, sub-prefect and mayor of Reims – as well as the Catholic archbishop – for the official opening ceremony.
According to Joachim Veliocas, a French observer of Islam, the Grand Mosque has links with the Muslim Brotherhood. Jihad preacher Hani Ramadan gave a talk there in May 2015.
It is in the light of this that Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort’s remarks should be considered.
Here is what the archbishop said:
‘You have done me a great honor in inviting me to share your joy on this day. I receive this joy thinking also of my predecessor, Mgr. Thierry Jordan, who supported your project right from the start.
‘Together with me, the Catholics of Reims are delighted that you can glorify God the creator and the merciful in this place, confide in him with your joys and sorrows, your hopes and plans, dilating your hearts so that they can be purified of all bad feelings and go towards the other full of strength, in peace and with trust.
‘Both you and we want to be seekers of God, and to carry out his holy and bountiful will, because in him we recognize the quintessential friend of man, who will not leave us to our mediocrity but who always broadens us.
‘I believe that our country has a true force of social cohesion. The reaction of the population after a number of terrorist attacks has globally proved that. But there is also latent violence, and sometimes, this violence erupts. Our churches and our mosques, our places of prayer and of teaching must be places where everyone can draw strength, energy and generosity to go towards the other with respect and esteem, and trust, and the desire to build together.
‘May the joy of this day illuminate the life of the Muslims of Reims for a very long time and may it be the guarantee that our town shall always be a town of trusting mutual relations, full of new projects.'”