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“Le Simone,” a Catholic café in the heart of France


Courtesy Le Simone

Zelda Caldwell - published on 07/03/17

The new co-working space and café invites young professionals and students to speak freely about the Catholic social and political issues.

A new café in Lyon, France, is serving up more than croissants and coffee. The Le Simone café is a co-working space with a distinctively Catholic flavor.

Opened last year by a group of students and young professionals called “Les Alternatives Catholiques” or “Altercathos,” the café is the culmination of a project to foster an open discussion of political and social issues of the day, seen through the lens of Catholic social doctrine.

Named after the philosopher, writer and mystic Simone Weil, the café offers an attractive and convivial space for young professionals to work and meet. With 44 workstations, high-speed internet and printing capability, a bookstore, and an art gallery, young professionals have a quiet and comfortable place to work and meet.

And meeting one another is at the heart of Le Simone’s mission – its raison d’etre, so to speak. People gather regularly there for Altercathos-led conferences, lectures, and workshops to discuss topical subjects.

“The exchanges are simple and honest and always end with a drink,” Gregoire, one of the Le Simone’s employees told “Église catholique in France.” Recent discussions have focused on the social doctrine of the Catholic Church, education, health care, geopolitics, and terrorism.

On one occasion a group of medical students organized a discussion with refugees from the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) to help them perfect their French. And this year the café featured lectures on great Catholic lay people “who participated in the greatness, beauty and diversity of Catholic thought: Schuman, Ozanam, Montalembert, Peguy, Chesterton and of course … Simone Weil.”

Weil, although she was never baptized, was very attracted to Catholicism, and remains an important figure among Catholic thinkers. Pope Paul VI included her among his three greatest influences.

Notre Dame theology professor Leonard DeLorenzo wrote at Aleteia that he often assigns Weil’s essay “The Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God” at the beginning of a term.

“Weil would advise us to spend time giving attention to each other—personally—and especially when the other person is not like you or sees from a different perspective or worldview,” wrote DeLorenzo.

It’s for that spirit of openness to encounter that the café Le Simone was named after Weil.

Read more:
What Simone Weil might say to the American people

“In this association, we refuse the cleavages between traditional and progressive Catholics. The dignity of a migrant and a human embryo is the same. What we are seeking is to ‘repoliticize’ Catholics so that they do not separate life in public space and religion at home, ” explains Grégoire.

Paul Colrat, a philosophy teacher and president of Altercathos, echos these sentiments and sees the association’s mission as one of bringing people together.

Our WYD [World Youth Day] generation is untouched by this kind of opposition, these battles that do not even speak to us. The social doctrine of the Church makes it possible to unite,” he told “Eglise catholique en France.”

With a hundred members, most of whom are under the age of 30, the Altercathos and the café Le Simone may signal the future of Catholicism in France. If they succeed in their mission to bring the free discussion of religion and social issues out of the private and into the public sphere they will have made a difference, not just for Catholics, for all French people.

Read more:
Helping the Hungry with Craft Beer and Coffee

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