He stopped at 80. While trying to identify the number of nationalities represented in his parish, Father Adalbert Ntonga, himself from Cameroon, quickly made a trip to the five continents. The Saint-Paul church, which makes its way through the sky of Massy (Essonne), in the middle of the towers of buildings of the popular district soberly baptized Le Grand Ensemble, in fact brings together the faithful from all over the world. A stone’s throw from the Massy opera house, this multicultural parish, witness to the different waves of migration, tries to live in unison by avoiding false notes. But how to reconcile all these identities within the Church of France and create unity?
Among the faithful from various horizons, whether they come from the West Indies, from different countries of the African continent, Sri Lanka or elsewhere, the debate is not taboo. Originally from Gabon, Véronique Di Mascio, who has been attending the parish for twenty years, says she feels ” At her place “. “We are a family and, like in all families, sometimes there can be arguments but people always end up coming back”, she smiles.
If she appreciates this learning of diversity on the pews of the church, she regrets however that there is little “People of French origin”, creating, according to her, a “Imbalance”. Living in another city of Essonne, Nicolas Michaud has, him, “Adopted” this parish, where he felt “Welcomed” and of which he is now a member of the animation team. “We must not be naive, all is not rosy, he concedes. But, yes, I think she is an example in the way she lives together. ” He himself spontaneously recounts having been shaken up in his Catholic identity by contact with believers who express their faith in different ways depending on their origins.
“What strikes those who come to our parish is the joy and dynamism of the celebrations with many young people, indicates François Beuneu, deacon. We see that people are good together. “ The latter admits that he still has a little trouble familiarizing himself with an enthusiasm which sometimes manifests itself in applause after the homily or loud “Amens” in the manner of evangelical Protestants.
“People from different continents bring their cultures and other forms of liturgy. What should be retained as a richness which allows the whole community to live as brothers? “, asks Father Adalbert Ntonga. Ensuring that each other’s identities can coexist is a permanent concern of the priest, anxious to maintain balance. He also recounts with a smile that, in the parish, we do not know which Mary (of Lourdes, Fatima, Cameroon…) to devote to, but that the subject, far from being trivial here, can quickly create tensions.
So to defend this unity in diversity, Father Ntonga relies heavily on the authority of the animation team, which wants to be as open as possible. “But we do not represent a community”, would like to point out Rogith Ranjith, 20, born in France to Tamil parents, originally from Sri Lanka.
The Tamils, among the most recent arrivals, can, like others, share their culture, especially during the peoples’ mass. Each year, this celebration provides an opportunity to value differences. “It is very moving to hear everyone praying the Our Father in their own language: we perceive the universal Church”, enthuses Father Ntonga.
Established in a popular district, this plural parish does not want to close in on itself, on the contrary. “In the Great Ensemble, Christians and Muslims are tolerant, again testifies the priest. For major holidays, the imam comes for coffee and the faithful appreciate this conviviality. They feel involved in the life of their neighborhood. “
At the heart of this “melting pot”, the parish ultimately builds its own identity, sometimes interspersed with improbable encounters. The young Bernice Klotoe, originally from Benin, thus tells how during a Stations of the Cross, she found herself singing… in Tamil. “Even though I didn’t know the language, the lyrics were projected onto the church screen, she remembers. Everyone has their place here and I quickly felt at home. “