Monday, May 15, 2006

Republican Baptism: another outstanding French solution for areligious parents.

This post is an article originally published in the Eurapsody column, hosted by the BBFN.

Like 99% of Italians of my generation, I was raised Catholic, received all the due sacraments, went regularly to catechism class and mass until adolescence hit me and started having my own doubts about a lot of issues. This is not a post about religion, so I won’t go further with my own experience with that. But when our son Milo was born, his dad and I had this discussion about how were we going to handle his spiritual education. He had also been raised Catholic and at one point decided to dissociate completely from the church and has ever since been a professed atheist. On top of it, we are not married, so a baptism in church was not in our plans, as it would have felt extremely hypocritical.

Milo’s birth and first few months were very intense and required all of our energies, so to the insistent demand of my side of the family (“Are you going to baptize him?”) we finally replied a simple “no, ” to the dismay of some older uncle and aunt! However, as his first anniversary approached I felt the need to have some sort of special celebration, to properly welcome him in our life, to formally introduce him to our dear ones, to mark the time. I stumbled across an article which talked about the decline of the Republican Baptism in France. A little research revealed that since 1794 this ceremony had been available to the lay French citizen who wanted another option to the Catholic ceremony.

In Paris one need only to contact its own district city hall and inquiry if the local mayor is available to celebrate the ceremony. Not all the 20 city halls of Paris administer it! Those whose political orientation is more traditional will tell you that the demand is so overwhelming that they have ceased administering it! However, we found 5 mairies who were available on the chosen date.

The ceremony is brief and entails a speech given by the mayor. The parents can nominate a godfather and a godmother, whose engagement is only moral and has no legal value should the kid remain orphan. A certificate is then issued to the parents and the godparents.We celebrated it on Milo’s first birthday, with both immediate families coming over from Belgium and Italy, and a few of the closest friends in Paris. It was indeed very moving: the mayor integrated in his speech the information I had forwarded on our specific situation and talked about a new generation of truly European kids, raised in a pluricultural setting; the godmother made also a very tear-provoking speech. Later we treated everyone to oysters and champagne in a nearby brasserie, and that same evening we hosted a full party at our place! We felt happy with the lovely souvenir we created for Milo and our loved ones, and look forward to repeat the experience with our second son.

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