Pope's visit to France stirs debate over immigration, secularism
Pope Francis' scheduled visit to France next week has stirred debate in the French political class, with left-wing politicians criticising the president for attending Mass while the far-right objects to the pope's positive views on immigration.
Francis will travel to Marseille, France's second city and a historic gateway for immigrants, where he is expected to send a message of tolerance towards migrants and give his Sunday Mass to an expected 60,000 at the city's famous soccer stadium.
The Elysee Palace confirmed on Thursday that President Emmanuel Macron will attend the Mass, immediately causing a barrage of criticism from left-wing politicians who said it goes against the French state's secular values.
France, which once prided itself on being the so-called "eldest daughter of the Church" for its historical role as a bastion of Roman Catholicism, has since the early 20th century enforced a strict separation of state and faith.
Debates over France's particular brand of secularism, known as laicite, regularly inflame political talk-shows, from whether nativity scenes can be placed in public buildings, or if the state should still observe religious holidays.