Reunion offers the world a prime example of the harmonious and peaceful cohabitation of religions and communities within a small territory. Regardless of to whom you are praying: the faith is reverent, the ceremonies attract large numbers of believers... and Saint Expeditus ensures that everyone can reach an agreement.
Saint-Denis, Saint-Pierre, Saint-André or Sainte-Marie... when visiting Reunion island it is impossible to ignore that the Catholic religion, which arrived with the first colonists, has strongly impregnated the identity of the island. A faith that transcends origin: initially through obligation during the colonial period and then through faith, Catholic believers can be found in all components of the Reunionese Creole population: African, Indian, Chinese... Reunion became the bishopric of Saint-Denis de La Réunion (St. Denis of Reunion Island) in 1905 and since 1976, Monseigneur Gilbert Aubry, the first bishop of Reunionese origin became its spiritual leader; he is a highly respected personality on the island. Several pilgrimages, such as that of Notre-Dame de La Salette (Our Lady of La Salette) to Saint-Leu, or that of the Vierge au Parasol (Virgin of the Parasol) to Piton Sainte-Rose attract a large and fervent crowd. Homage is also paid to the missionary fathers who devoted themselves to improve the lives of slaves, such as Father Lafosse or Brother Scubillon.
The Tamil temples, where the malbar community- formed of the travellers who came from India and were hired in the plantations following the abolition of slavery - practice Hindu rituals are also very much present, and one can but admire their bold colours, the depictions of the divinities and the reverence with which the believers approach. There are eight large temples throughout the island, the most impressive of which is the Colosse Temple in Saint-André, although there are also several small, both private and oratory, in the districts. Here Brahma, the supreme being, the principle responsible for the creation of the universe, Vishnu who is the guardian of this universe, and Shiva the destructor, who personifies renewal, are worshipped. Each is associated with a female principle: Brahma with his wife Sarasvati, Vishnou with Lakshmi and Shiva with Parvati (the benevolent manifestation) or Kali (the destructive manifestation of the same goddess). Ganesh, the son of Shiva and Parvati, with his four arms and the head of an elephant, symbolises knowledge and symbolises intelligence and luck. Several festivals punctuate the Tamil calendar, such as Dipavali in October (Festival of Lights) or Cavadee (in February/March): believers carry heavy wooden structures covered in flowers over long distances, their skin pierced by silver hooks from which sacred lemons are suspended. Finally there are the Pandal festivals, in December or July depending on the temples and the lunar calendar, which are marked by penitent believers walking over burning coals.
The Muslim community, in spite of its 25,000 or so members, is very discreet, even though the call of the muezzin can be heard in the streets of the towns in which the mosques are located, the most noteworthy of which is the magnificent Noor-e-Islam Mosque in Saint-Denis. Built in 1905, it is the oldest mosque in France! Featuring a minaret (tower) that stands at a height of 32 metres, its architecture is of Indian inspiration and is nothing short of astonishing: the vast majority of Reunionese Muslims (referred to here as "Zarabes") are descendants of Indian Muslims.
The Chinese community, although mainly Catholic, also includes believers who gather in the pagodas of Saint-Denis and Saint-Pierre to practice a religion combining Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, under the watchful eye of Guan Di. The celebration of the Chinese New year (in January or February, depending on the lunar calendar) is a time for noisy demonstrations: dragons are walked down the streets, offerings are made to the gods, and catherine wheels ward off evil spirits, while creating a great deal of noise !
While the representatives of all of the communities are proud of their festivals and places of worship, which are as much a part of the cultural heritage as the tourist attractions are, the greatest of care should be taken to respect the days of worship and the prohibitions enforced by each religion during visits.
Whatever your religion, if a problem arises it is worth paying a visit to Saint Expeditus: to be found in one of the many oratories that line the sides of the roads - he enables all people to reach agreement !