Interview by Meghan Ferrara
Photos by Teresa Limjoco
Nestled in the heart of Paris, the parish of Ste. Eugène/Ste. Cecile maintains a special place in French Catholicism. The church’s renowned Schola is a defining aspect of the parish and has set the standard for liturgical music in France and around the world. Under the careful guardianship of Abbé Eric Iborra, the parish is now a flourishing Catholic community. They are protecting their heritage from the past and looking forward to a bright and lasting future sharing their gifts with the rest of the Church. Recently, Abbé Iborra spoke with Regina Magazine about this unique congregation.
REGINA: Father, what is your formation and background? How long have you been at St. Eugène?
Abbe Eric Iborra: In college, I studied law, economics and political science. I then joined the diocesan seminary in Paris and I studied philosophy at the Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium) and theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. I first served for seven years at a parish in Paris, then for ten years as a chaplain in a hospital. In 2007, I moved to my present position at St Eugene. In order to serve in this “bi-form” parish I learned the old Latin mass in a Benedictine monastery in Triors.
THE CHURCH OF STE. CECILE/STE EUGENE is 19th century neo-Gothic, one of the first constructed with steel beams. It is owned by to the City of Paris, which considers it a landmark.
REGINA: How did you find the parish when you arrived?
E.I.: I found the community rather divided over the former parish priest who was not well-liked by the more traditional congregations.
MAGNIFICENT STAINED GLASS WINDOWS OVER AN UNTOUCHED HIGH ALTAR distinguish the parish church of Sainte Cecile from many French churches, now sadly denuded of their art by post Vatican II iconoclasts.
REGINA: Has the parish grown since that time?
E.I.: The new parish priest worked diligently to restore a better ambiance in the community. The two parts (the Novus Ordo mass in French and the Traditional Latin mass) of the parish have a much easier relationship with each other. Two initiatives that are shared by both sides of the parish are pilgrimages, and charity events. We celebrate two Masses, one in each form, on Sunday and on weekdays.
REGINA: What do you find is key to the spiritual growth of the parish?
E.I.: The liturgy and preaching, I dare say.
REGINA: What activities do you offer in support of the parish?
E.I.: We offer catechism classes for both children and adults. Several of the adult participants are preparing for Baptism or Confirmation. In addition, I teach an Alpha course in church history. We also invite parishioners to pilgrimages, conferences, and charities
SCHOLA DIRECTOR HENRI DE VILLIERS AND ABBÉ IBORRA CHAT WITH A PARISHIONER outside Ste Cecile after Mass. “In 2007, I moved to my present position at St Eugène. In order to serve in this “bi-form” parish I learned the old Latin mass in a Benedictine monastery in Triors,” explains Abbé Iborra.
MANY YOUNG CATHOLICS AND CONVERTS FIND THEIR WAY TO SAINTE CECILE in the heart of Paris’s Right Bank, attracted by the Traditional Latin Mass.
THE ABBE WEARS HIS SOUTANE ON PARIS CITY STREETS: Once a common sight everywhere in France, now rarely seen.
REGINA: Looking back, what have been your principal challenges?
E.I.: My principal challenge has been uniting both parts of the parish, living charity even when liturgical choices are not the same. Another challenge has been managing a parish in a city quarter where few Catholics live. Many of them commute from elsewhere.
REGINA: What advice would you offer to priests and parishioners who are just starting out on the road you have come so far on?
E.I.: I would advise them to be rooted in Christ and His teachings. I would also recommend giving priority to the liturgy and, of course, being an example of Christ’s love to all mankind toward everyone they meet.
SOCIALIZING AFTER MASS: Parishioners at Ste Cecile share a chat after the Traditional Latin Mass there. The parish draws people from all over Paris and its suburbs.
“MY MAJOR JOY HAS BEEN THE NUMBER OF RELIGIOUS AND PRIESTLY VOCATIONS from the young parishioners who attend the Traditional Latin Mass. Most of them began their calling as altar servers. There have been at least two vocations every year for several decades,” explains Abbé Iborra.
LEAVING SUNDAY MASS IN THE HEART OF PARIS: In the center of what many would consider a world capital of aggressive secularism, the parish of Ste Cecile/Ste Eugene attracts young and old, from every walk of life.