During the mid 1950's I visited France. I was serving in the United States Air Force at the time. Americans were not well liked and neither was the British. There were some hard feelings left over from the war. Not serious. They were still our allies. I found the French people to be courteous, friendly and helpful. Many had lost everything during the war. Poverty was apparent. Particularly in the rural sector between Paris and Caen. We drove through towns, villages and cities that were still, five years after the war, clearing the rubble . Piles and piles of bricks, dirt, boards, broken furniture, empty cans etc. still dominated the village or pastoral views. American young people, at least those I served with, were either Christian or Jewish. Some I suppose were atheists or agnostic but I don't remember them at all. Perhaps I never knew.
I mention this to indicate that religion was never an issue between us. That is prior to our visit to France. France is, or was then, dominated by the Catholic Church. For the first time I began looking at Catholics as "different" and not altogether the same as "Protestants". Leaving Paris and heading roughly west we encountered rural lands, picturesque farms, many small villages, winding streams and small rivers, hedgerows that separated farm land, and a comparatively magnificent Catholic Church in every small collection of homes. The churches were all in excellent condition, clean and polished, gilded with gold, and generally the largest buildings in the town.
The people were living in basements and rooms and roughly constructed shelters. They were scrounging for foods and asking for help and dressed in worn and ragged clothes. The difference between the ostentatious Catholic Churches and the poor survivors of the war gathered my attention. I started to observe carefully.
more to come