OXFORD, England - When French voters handed a parliamentary majority to their country's Socialist Party six weeks after electing a socialist Francois Hollande as president, there were fears it could herald a new aggressive secularism in a country noted for strict separation of church and state.

But observers of the French scene discount predictions of church-state conflict and say the priority will be a return to normalcy rather than any new secularist agenda.

Published in International

VATICAN CITY - The world's oldest Catholic bishop, Vietnamese Bishop Antoine Nguyen Van Thien, died May 13 in France two months after his 106th birthday, the Vatican newspaper reported.

The former bishop of Vinh Long, Vietnam, celebrated the 80th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood in February. He was ordained a bishop in 1961 and he attended all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council in 1962-65.

Published in International

Twenty-five students from Barrie, Ont.’s St. Joseph’s Catholic High School experienced an Easter to remember as they travelled to France on a Remembering Vimy Ridge trip.

Accompanied by history teacher Trevor Carter, the students experienced a seven-day history class.

“The students did realize the sacrifice of the soldiers when they were sacrificing their comfort,” said Carter, describing the Easter Monday weather as typical for Normandy, France — wet, windy and cold. “But it was easy to handle the weather when you took into account what happened there 95 years ago.”

Published in Education

PARIS - French President Nicolas Sarkozy rejected calls for secular values to be enshrined into his country's constitution and urged religious leaders to do more to spread their message in the country.

"A secular society is one which has decided to separate churches from the state, so the state doesn't have to account for its choices to churches, and churches don't depend on the state to live and organize -- this is secularity, a secular republic," he told religious leaders at a traditional New Year meeting Jan. 25.

Published in International

DOMREMY, France - French President Nicolas Sarkozy praised his country's patron, St. Joan of Arc, for helping "forge the national conscience."

"For the church, Joan is a saint. For the republic, she's the incarnation of the finest French virtues, including a patriotism that consists of loving one's homeland without resenting others," the president said Jan. 6 after attending Mass at Domremy to mark the 600th anniversary of her birth.

Published in International