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Posted at 6:57 a.m. PST Tuesday, October 31, 2000

French church leaders fail to lay Halloween ghost

PARIS (Reuters) - France's Christian leaders made a last-ditch attempt Tuesday to dissuade revelers from celebrating the imported U.S. holiday of Halloween, condemning it as a pagan ritual and a celebration of Satan.

But their calls had little impact. Shops decked out in orange and black offered fancy dress competitions, pumpkin-decorating displays and face-painting for children, while nightclubs throughout France planned festivities.

Both Roman Catholic and Protestant spokesmen hit out against the Oct. 31 festival that has taken France by storm since it arrived in the late 1990s.

``Skeletons and witches, pumpkins and ghosts ... how long can this marketing operation called Halloween continue to distort our sense of life and death?,'' the Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference asked in its bulletin.

The Salvation Army's weekly newspaper, En Avant, wrote: ``Halloween refers, like All Saints, to those who have gone before us to the beyond. Except that one makes fun of it and the other is done in reverence.''

Critics of Halloween argue it turns people away from celebrating Wednesday's festival of All Saints, which is a holiday in traditionally Catholic France.

Church leaders have also criticized the way many public schools have held Halloween-related events.

``I don't think teachers mean to develop paganism, it's more that they are poorly informed, which is just as bad,'' said Jean-Arnold de Clermont, president of the French Federation of Protestants.

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