The church's eldest daughter

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France has long held the esteemed title at the head of this post, but its floundering church will certainly be in the spotlight as Pope Benedict XVI travels there this weekend for the 150th anniversary of the Virgin Mary's appearance at Lourdes.

Pilgrims will certainly flock to the pope, but their devotion will likely be short-lived. Only about half of French people identify as Catholic, and only about 10 percent attend church on Sunday. Church weddings are plummeting as well, and more than half of French children are born to unmarried women.

What to make of it? One problem in my mind is that church leaders aren't speaking to the real hungers of people. Media reports suggest that the pope is going to address the proper relationship between church and state in his opening address. To me, it's that kind of institutional focus that isn't so much driving people away as leaving them adrift. The pope, at least in this case, seems more concerned with focusing on Christianity's privileged position in Europe than actually inviting people to take part. Arguments about laicité are simply not the food hungry souls are looking for.