The Eucharist - Made In France

Easter is one of the silly seasons for the media. The holiday sees a spike in publication of religion-themed stories in the secular press -- often with uneven results.

Some outlets opine on topics for which they are manifestly unqualified to offer an opinion.  Donald Trump's “Two” Corinthians controversy and the New York Times' inability to explain Easter are two recent examples noted by GetReligion.

The season also sees the production of prestige stories seeking to sum up the meaning of life in 2000 words or less. Time magazine has a long tradition, which began long before its “Is God Dead” 1966 cover story, of investing in these middlebrow faith stories.

A third seasonal trope is the religion item tied to events in the secular world. These present the opportunity for the writer to demonstrate his cleverness. One that caught my eye over Easter reported on calls for protecting French domestic industry from unfair competition.

The story in the French opinion magazine, Boulevard Voltaire, entitled “Les monastères français en péril: la Pologne et les USA « cassent » le marché des hosties” tied President Trump’s sabre-rattling over allegations that Canada is dumping lumber and dairy products in the United States with news that French nuns were protesting the importation of cheap Eucharistic hosts from the USA and Poland, undercutting domestic industry.

Let me set the scene. The European press loves Donald Trump, but not in the way it loved Barack Obama. The 44th president was a romantic, mythic figure painted in subdued tones. To cite Somerset Maugham: “He reminded you of one of the knights of Burne-Jones though he was on a larger scale and there was none of the suggestion that he suffered from chronic colitis that afflicted those unfortunate creatures.” From “The Human Element” in The World Over (1952).

The love the European press feels for Donald Trump is different. “In a word all Cleopatra -- fierce, voluptuous, passionate, tender … and full of … rapturous enchantment.” Hatred can be enchanting. That "The Donald" is detestable is an article of faith for the European media -- but they love him also because he provides such wonderful copy. Loathing for the 45th president provides a degree of pleasure far greater than the derision once directed towards George W. Bush.

The Independent’s report on the president’s sabre-rattling with Canada over softwood imports elicited this near-hysterical report. The lede of “Donald Trump calls Canada 'disgraceful' in row over protectionism” stated:

President Donald Trump has called protectionist trade measures by the Canadian government "a disgrace." "Canada, what they've done to our dairy farm workers, it's a disgrace," Mr Trump said on Thursday in the Oval Office. The statement was part of larger comments on American trade deals that Mr Trump made while signing an executive order on steel imports. "We're not going to let Canada take advantage [of the U.S.]," Trump told the group of reporters, claiming Canadian policies had hurt US timber and lumber jobs as well.

Compare this lede to the dulcet tones of the Los Angeles Times’ article on the same issue: “Trump slaps tariffs on Canadian lumber imports, escalating trade tensions.”

The Trump administration is slapping hefty duties on billions of dollars of lumber imported from Canada, marking an escalation of trade tensions ahead of the president’s promised effort to overhaul the North American Free Trade Agreement. The new duties came amid sharp rhetoric by Trump and his senior officials critical of NAFTA, first focused on Mexico and more recently on Canada, the largest purchaser of U.S. exports. In a tweet Tuesday, Trump railed against Canada’s protected dairy industry.

Protectionism and trade are hot topics once again, and into this mix comes the report that American, Polish and now Chinese firms are driving French manufacturers of Eucharistic hosts out of business. The 13 April, 2017, story in Boulevard Voltaire drew its facts from a story released by the Luxembourg state broadcaster, and the French daily La Croix.

My interest piqued, I turned to RTL which reported:

« La guerre des hosties a lieu à quelques jours de Pâques et de la présidentielle. Faut-il acheter français ? Faut-il demander aux fidèles catholiques de communier français ? Le débat sur le protectionnisme, relancé par Trump et qui agite notre présidentielle s’invite même devant les autels des églises. Les hosties qui ont toujours été Made in France sont menacées par la concurrence étrangère. »
A war of the hosts is taking place in time for Easter and the presidential election. Should I buy French? Must we ask the Catholic faithful to receive communion in French? The debate on protectionism, revived by Trump and which has agitated our presidential campaign has inserted itself even upon church altars. The wafers that have always been Made in France are being threatened by foreign competition.

RTL reports that Eucharist hosts in France are made by nuns in 30 convents spread across the country. Their sales have declined by 30 per cent over the last ten years, with cheap imports undercutting their prices.

« Concurrence déloyale » dénonce sœur Marie-Samuel de l'abbaye Notre-Dame de Bon-Secours. (“Unfair competition’, says Sister Marie-Samuel of the Abbey of Notre Dame de Bon-Secours.”)

The abbey, France’s largest producer turns out 21 million hosts per year at a cost of 18 euros per thousand, while the leading American producer turns out 850 million hosts per year at a cost of 11 euros per thousand. RTL further noted that Sister Marie-Samuel raised a stink in 2009 when the shrine at Lourdes, one of the largest single buyers of communion hosts, would begin buying cheaper Polish hosts. It noted that Sister Marie-Samuel was able to shame Lourdes into buying French, but new competitors are appearing on the horizon.

« Et dernièrement Sœur Marie-Samuel a refusé d'expédier une commande d'hosties venues de Chine accompagnée par une demande de visite d'une télévision chinoise. » (Finally, Sister Marie-Samuel refused to order a shipment of hosts from China, which came with a request from Chinese television to visit the abbey.)

Wanting to explore this story further, I looked through recent issues of La Croix, the French newspaper cited in the magazine story. Turning to Google, I found an article entitled: « Les hosties françaises sont soumises à rude concurrence. » There I found the interview with Sister Marie-Samuel, the dismal market forecast and the Lourdes battle. I also found a date of February 28, 2010.

It appears to my untutored eye that this is not quite “fake news.” In the back of someone’s mind lurked this old story about French wafer production being under pressure from cheap foreign imports. Comes the Donald into the frame, sucking the air out of every other topic. Would it not be a clever idea to tie these two together? A new interview with Sister Marie-Samuel -- a bit about the Chinese (not found in the 2010 story) and we have timely, clever Easter themed story that piggybacks onto Trump’s trade wars.

There is nothing wrong with incorporating older material into new stories, but it is incumbent upon a reporter to distinguish what is new news, and what is background. This did not happen in the RTL piece, leading Boulevard Voltaire and its readers with the impression that this was a new story. This just won’t do.