August 22, 1997
Pope clashes with French Socialists over abortion
By Alister Doyle
CHALO-SAINT-MARS, France (Reuter) - Pope John Paul II clashed with France's ruling Socialists Friday by visiting the tomb of a leading anti-abortionist, defying their warning that his trip could encourage anti-abortion activists to challenge French laws.
The pope, on the second day of a four-day visit to France, flew by helicopter to Chalo-Saint-Mars, south of Paris, to pray at the grave of his geneticist friend Jerome Lejeune, who inspired his hardline stance against abortion.
Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's Socialist Party said only hours earlier that ``it regrets that Pope John Paul II chose to pray at the grave of Professor Lejeune during the World Youth Days.''
``The meaning of such a gesture can only cause discontent and risks encouraging in our country the determination of those who wage a struggle bearing the mark of intolerance,'' it said.
Several groups had announced a protest at this picturesque village of 1,200, but only a dozen demonstrators turned up. They were outnumbered by reporters and gently kept hundreds of yards away from the hilltop cemetery by police.
Protester Alain Godin called the the pope's 45-minute visit to the churchyard ``a political provocation.''
But the demonstrators shied away from a clash with police standing two-deep on the road. Like hundreds of villagers and tourists standing in a cornfield, they could not even catch a glimpse of the pope through the thick woods surrounding the cemetery.
``I came to see the pope, but it is easier to see God,'' said tourist Monique Delachnal, snapping pictures of police.
The 77-year-old pope, who arrived in Paris Thursday to preside over the Roman Catholic international youth festival, has ignored a mounting outcry over his plans and focused instead on his quest to revive declining religious zeal among French people.
The Vatican said his visit to the grave was a private tribute to a friend and it barred all reporters.
Lejeune, who discovered the extra chromosome causing Down's Syndrome, founded a pro-life group ``Let Them Live'' and was head of the pope's academy of sciences when he died in 1994 aged 67.
Family planning organizations, leftist politicians and feminist groups have denounced the pontiff's visit to the grave as a challenge to France's liberal two-decade-old abortion laws.
One protest group said it would hand out ``holy condoms'' Saturday to some of the 500,000 young pilgrims who have flocked to Paris from 160 countries for the World Youth Days.
The pope considers abortion and most forms of contraception to be sins.
The Socialist Party said that it ``wants the law authorizing abortion in France to be respected'' and ``strongly condemned'' protests staged this week by anti-abortion commandos.
One anti-abortion group vowed to hold protests at Paris hospitals on every day of the pope's visit.
The pope earlier presided over a colorful three-hour ceremony at Notre-Dame cathedral to set on the road to sainthood French layman Frederic Ozanam, who founded a charity to fight for the poor during the social upheavals of the 19th century.
The pontiff extolled Ozanam as an example for the young, who he hopes can inject new life into the Catholic church.
``I invite the laity, and in particular young people, to show courage and imagination in working to build a more fraternal society where the less fortunate will be esteemed in all their dignity and will have the means to live in respect,'' he said.
In the first beatification performed in France, the pope pronounced Ozanam ``a blessed one'' as a giant portrait of the activist was unfurled on the facade of the 12th-century Gothic cathedral where Napoleon was crowned emperor in 1804.
Beatification is one step short of sainthood.
Pilgrims crammed into the cathedral cheered and clapped when the pope said that he himself, as a student in pre-war Poland, had joined the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, a charity Ozanam founded when he was a 20-year-old student in Paris.
Ozanam said he wanted to ``wrap the whole world in a network of charity.'' His organization, providing moral and material support for the elderly, sick, jobless and homeless, has grown to claim more than 850,000 members in 132 countries.