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Easter Surprise: France & Belgium See Sharp Increase in Adult Baptisms

Interior of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris (Photo courtesy of Wikicommons Images, Cezary Piwowarski, CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED)

In spite of the dismal state of Christianity throughout Europe, new numbers out of France and Belgium are showing an unexpected sharp rise in the number of adolescent and adult baptisms during this Easter season.

According to The Pillar, the number of adult baptisms in France increased by 30 percent in the past year, from 5,463 in 2023 to 7,135 in 2024. These numbers include a sharp rise in the number of teens aged 11 to 17 which was the highest number recorded since the French bishops’ conference began tabulating data more than 20 years ago. The French media were ahead of the story and began reporting on this spike in January, calling it an “unexpected boom.”

“In the space of two years, the number of catechumens aged between 15 and 25 has literally soared in France,” the French Catholic weekly Famille chrétienne said.

It quoted Bérengère Melot, who oversees the catechumenate in the Diocese of Le Mans, as saying: “There hasn’t been a week since the start of the school year when I haven’t received one, two, or even three requests from young people of that age.”

In a dossier released by the French bishops on March 24, Bishop Olivier Leborgne, head of the French Bishops’ department for catechesis wrote: “In almost every diocese in France, people are coming to the Church to ask for baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist, sometimes in a movement of bewildering proportions. They have come about through identified paths, having intersected with our pastoral projects and missionary endeavors, but they also arrive as part of a personal process that has taken a completely unexpected path.”

He added: “In a world in search of meaning, Christ and his Gospel are speaking to people who had never heard of him before. Many are witnessing authentic experiences of salvation, the kind that lift you up, straighten you out, restore your confidence, and reopen your future. How can we fail to give thanks?”

The dossier reports that 10 French dioceses recorded twice as many baptisms this year as last year, and 21 dioceses have seen increases of 50 percent or more.

“All age groups are on the rise, but the biggest increase is among young people aged 18 to 25,” the report stated. “In fact, these young people represent 36% of baptized adults, compared with only 23% before the pandemic period.”

The report also noted that the number of adults with no religious background who came forward for baptism accounted for a quarter of the total of newcomers to the Church. Five percent of newcomers were of Muslim origin.

Fr. Vincent Breynaert wrote that while it’s difficult to assess the reasons why so many young people are coming to the Church, he found that they all had one thing in common: a spiritual experience and a personal encounter with Christ.

“A certain number say they were touched by the beauty of a liturgy, the soothing silence of a church, the testimony of a friend,” Fr. Breynaert writes. “In a society where 80% of young people have received no religious education, these young ‘called ones’ have few preconceived ideas about the Church, but they are thirsty for formation, reference points, fraternity, and roots.”

Even though the number of adult baptisms in France and Belgium are not yet making up for the decline in infant baptisms, these numbers are indeed remarkable considering the fact that Mass attendance in both countries barely breaks the eight percent mark. In France, where 29 percent of its 63 million people identify as Catholic, only 8 percent are practicing Catholics. Half of Belgium’s 12 million people identify as Catholic, but only 8.9 percent attend Mass weekly.

Even though Mass attendance and infant baptisms are down, these new numbers are particularly significant because so many of the newcomers are youth.

As The Pillar reports, 29-year-old Jeffrey Schoenaers, who was baptized at the Easter Vigil in Tienen, Belgium, told Kernet, the official website of the Catholic Church in Flanders, that the death of his grandfather caused him to ask existential questions that led him to Christ.

“I started reading books and discovered that Christianity was part of my identity. It was like rediscovering my own culture, a renaissance,” Schoenaers said.

“God and the Catholic faith welcomed me with open arms. My interest kept growing and I thought: rather a meaningful life than a meaningless existence.”

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