TOURS, France, Jan. 21 (UPI) -- Almost 1,300 years ago, Charles Martel defeated a Muslim attempt to conquer this lovely city, whose environs would later become home to generations of French kings. Ever since the Battle of Tours (or Poitiers) Charles Martel -- Charlemagne's grandfather -- has been credited with saving Europe from Islam, thus enabling a Christian civilization to grow throughout the Continent.
Now Islam is back. In fact, with almost 5 million believers in France, Islam is the second religion in this country, which once called itself proudly the First Daughter of the Church.
Does this worry André Vingt-Trois, Tours' dynamic Catholic archbishop whose most famous predecessor was the beloved St. Martin (316-397 A.D.)? Does Vingt-Trois fear that the Muslims might now succeed where they had failed back in 732 A.D.?
"No!" Vingt-Trois replied forcefully, "I am not afraid of them." What troubles him more at this point is the "barbaric state" of the French students and young professionals, the heirs of the 1960s generation, "which has renounced all norms for life."
Vingt-Trois, who chairs the French Bishops Conference's Commission for the Family, sees "a profound anthropological crisis" in his country, a crisis caused by post-modernity's moral relativism.
"For this mistaken generation all acts are equal," he said. In other words, there is no qualitative difference between moral or immoral behavior.
"In reality, these young people have had no parents. To be sure, they have had biological fathers and mothers, who fed them. But they did not educate their children. Hence, we have a generation of young know-nothings, not just in matters of faith but in every other respect as well."
The archbishop, who at 60 is thought of as relatively young and one of the best brains in the French Catholic hierarchy, rates these "barbarian youths" the latest catastrophe coming out of the 17th- and 18th-century Enlightenment and its ideology of the absolute supremacy of anthropology.
German Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was hanged by the Nazis, once observed that this ideology, which became manifest in all its horrors during the French Revolution, lead to the destruction of man. Now, in an interview with United Press International, a Catholic archbishop Vingt-Trois used these same words.
Rather than worry about Muslim immigrants, most of whom aren't fundamentalists anyway, the French society should endeavor to overcome "the horror of the autonomy of man," Vingt-Trois said.
He listed the bitter fruits of the Enlightenment, fruits that were anything but Christian: "There was the anti-Semitism of Voltaire, who was not a Christian. There was the anti-Semitism of the Nazis, who were pagans and Gnostics. Nobody talks about that. Nobody likes to admit that Nazism and Marxism were both children of the Enlightenment -- children that killed 60 million human beings in 20th-century Europe.
To the archbishop this was an "explosion of horror."
By comparison, the mass immigration of Muslims, mainly from France's former colonies, is less worrisome. "We do have a religious supermarket in which Islam is well placed, but less well than Buddhism." What makes both faiths attractive to many is that they have clearly defined practices.
"There is a great paradox here. Many in France who have rejected Christianity because of the obligations it imposes on the believer find it perfectly natural that Islam has even stricter rules."
Why is he so sanguine about this? "Because the power of God's word is stronger." Vingt-Trois said he observed many signs of a Christian renewal in his diocese in the center of France. He drew a parallel between the current situation and the era after the 17th-century religious wars, which were particularly bloody in the Loire Valley, at whose center Tours lies.
Then France experienced a Christian renewal, an "evangelization rooted in God's love," he explained. This renewal was driven by mystics, such as St. Francis de Salle and St. Vincent de Paul, both founders of religious orders.
Are there mystics today? "I certainly hope so," the archbishop said. "During my pastoral visits to parishes I have observed the development of a great spiritual vitality both in rural areas and here in the city of Tours."
Dynamic Christians in these parishes are still small in number, "but then Christianity has never really been a mass movement," according to Vingt-Trois. The good news is, he mused, that the "young barbarians" realize that something is missing in their lives. "At least they are prepared to listen. Whether they'll then act upon it is another question, but listen they will."
This is a phenomenon clerics and youth workers report from all over the Western world, especially the United States.