(Reuters) – Chief Abbess Manchen Shih gazed through a first-floor window of her vast wood and concrete temple as shaven-headed nuns in mustard robes prepared for midday prayers, cooking rice as an offering to the Buddha.
“Look! You can see the mosque and the Laotian temple,” she said, gesturing at two half-finished buildings rising from a weed-ridden site in Bussy-Saint-Georges, 30 km (20 miles) east of Paris.
Like many of the new towns that have sprung up since the 1960s to ease urban overcrowding, more than half of Bussy’s 25,000 residents are immigrants. Local mayor Hugues Rondeau says around 40 percent of the town’s population is Asian.
With France – a secular nation with a long Roman Catholic history – battling to come to terms with its increasingly multicultural identity, Rondeau believes Bussy can set an example.
Worried by a dearth of prayer space for non-Catholics, he is breaking new ground by placing a synagogue, a mosque and two Buddhist temples side by side in a bid to tear down barriers between the faiths. Bussy already has a Catholic church.