André Heidersheid, former Editor-in-chief of the Luxembourger Wort, stated a generation ago,

“Conservative and realistic, sceptical and distrustful, utilitarian, pragmatic and infatuated with security, the Luxembourger is also this way in the area of religion, in which he does not wish to take unnecessary risks. Indeed two risks must be assessed: that of marshalling sterile and useless efforts if God does not exist; and the risk of irremediably compromising everything if God does exist and if there is a life after death. Such a dilemma need not necessarily be posed in clear philosophical or theological terms in order to be felt”. (1)

Although the Grand Duchy’s younger generation has adopted a far more postmodern view of religious issues since Heidersheid made his speech at the Centre Universitaire in Luxembourg, the post-war generation probably still maintains his outlook.

  • Celts are the first peoples who left historical traces in our region. Archaeological finds point to the cult of the dead among these hunter-gatherers, a practice well known in the pre-Christian pagan era.
  • Trier and the early Christian tradition are linked in our geographical area. Roman soldiers and merchants brought Christianity into northern Gaul even before the time of Constantine, who declared Christianity the religion of the state early in the 4th century.
  • Willibrord, a Northumbrian missionary monk who became Bishop of Utrecht, established Catholic influence during the late 7th century in Austrasia (our region was not yet known as Luxembourg), particularly in Echternach, where he oversaw the founding and building of a monastery with the support of the wealthy Irmina von Oeren.
  • Count Siegfried built a fortress on the Bock in 963 and — like many other noble families — sought to support the advance of monasteries during the high Middle Ages. Throughout the Middle Ages the founding of about forty monasteries within the borders of the old Duchy of Luxembourg allowed monastic life to flourish.
  • The Jesuit order implemented reforms introduced by the Council of Trent (1545-1563), effectively insuring that the Protestant reformation advancing in Germany, France and the Netherlands did not affect the Duchy of Luxembourg.
  • Mary became patron saint of the land in 1666 under the influence of the Jesuit order. Under the title “Consolatrix of the Afflicted” her image continues to attract many pilgrims during the spring Octave festivities — the religious event par excellence in Luxembourg’s liturgical year, “when Luxembourgers feel themselves most vividly to be a vibrant Christian community”. (2)
  • The role of religion in the public schools has been a controversial issue since the end of the 19th century. In 1912 the government and the Church were pitted against each other regarding the degree of involvement by the Church in the State. The controversy, resolved after World War I, has resurfaced recently, so that religion classes held in the public schools are now being replaced by courses in secular ethics.
  • Protestant presence after World War II increased marginally with the coming of the European institutions. Several confessions are represented for Dutch-, German- and French-speaking Protestant congregations. Evangelical congregations not supported by the state have been launched, largely to serve French- and English-speaking immigrants.
  • Vatican II officially sanctioned and encouraged Roman Catholics to read the Bible for themselves in the early 1960s.
  • Contemporary Roman Catholicism, long the majority religious confession in the Grand Duchy, has encountered the pressures of secularism. Matthias Schiltz, then Vicar General of the diocese, commented already in 1985,

    …the wave of materialism and secularization rolling across Europe does not stop at the borders of Luxembourg. Hedonism is now the religion of many and this has seriously damaged religious faith and practice. Attendance at Sunday mass has been declining rapidly over the last twenty years and the national average is now about 25% of the population. Although most children are still baptized, make their first communion and are confirmed, many of them abandon all religious practice as soon as the [sic] have completed these ‘rituals’. A crisis has been reached with regard to religious vocations. Ordinations to the priesthood have fallen by almost two thirds in twenty-five years, with an average of two or three a year. Marriage, too, is being increasingly underminded [sic]. One in three marriages now ends in divorce, which means that there is a very serious threat to the future, not only of the family but also of the Christian faith. Moreover, the number of young people who reject Christian marriage, and sometimes even any form of marriage, is increasing. Others get married in church without adequate preparation or motivation”. (3)

  • The entire Bible has never yet been translated entirely into Luxembourgish. Given that Luxembourgish has until recently been a spoken language with relatively rare literary attempts, and that Luxembourgers are able to read in German and French, the need for a local Bible translation has not seemed to be an urgent need. However, now that Luxembourgish is increasingly becoming a written language of integration for young people, a translation is needed.
  • Contemporary religious diversity is evident in Luxembourg by virtue of the significant immigration trends since the 1960s. Traditional Roman Catholicism is no longer the preeminent religious force in the country.
  • The quest for unity in diversity continues to be a theme in Luxembourg’s multicultural mix of about 170 nationalities.

    “Just as Luxembourg during all the centuries of its turbulent history was more than a mere transit country and was also always regarded as a connecting link between enemy powers, today the Grand Duchy is once again preparing to serve as the testing ground, if not a model, for peaceful coexistence in tomorrow’s Europe. In particular in the context of an enlarged European Union and worldwide globalisation, this EU member state, the second smallest after Malta, proves that in a multicultural society, with integration potential from both sides, material prosperity can certainly go hand in hand with tolerance and mutual respect, paired with an expansion of cultural horizons. No country in Europe handles the immigration and integration of foreigners with such self-assurance and in such a matter-of-fact way as the little Grand Duchy in the centre of the European Greater Region. And nowhere else do members of such diverse nations live together with hardly any social conflicts. This ‘miniature Europe’ gives us the chance to study, like in a microcosm, how a multinational community can function”(4)

The CEPS study

According to statistics published in 2011, 73% of Luxembourg’s inhabitants belong to a Christian confession (5). Of this total 68,7% are Roman Catholic; 1,8% protestant and 1,9% other denominations.

2,6% belong to another non-Christian religion and 24,9% claim adherence to no religion at all. The study pointed out that in comparison with studies completed ten years earlier, religious observance had remained stable over the decade. The only notable change was the slight progression of Islamic faith from 0,7% to 2%, due to the immigration of refugees from the former Yugoslavia.

The CEPS study also asked respondents to assess how important religion was to them. 16% considered religion to be very important; 26% as rather important; 32% as not very important and 26% as not important at all. Almost half of the respondents declared they were either non-religious (35%) or convinced atheists (9%).

The study furthermore indicated that between 1999 and 2008 religious practice fell substantially (21% versus 13%) and the absence of practice increased (48% versus 53%). Nonetheless 60% of the respondents still supported the need for baptism and marriage, and about three quarters saw the need for a religious ceremony after death. These figures represent a drop since 1999.

  1. ^ André Heidersheid, “Les Luxembourgeois: un Peuple épris de sécurité”, Etudes  économiques luxembourgeoises, Université internationale de Sciences comparéees, Luxembourg, 1970, 146.
  2. ^ M. Schmitt, “A Brief Review of the History of the Church in Luxembourg”, Poopsvisite zu Letzebuerg: Press Information, 1985, 18.
  3. ^ “Brief Note on the Catholic Church in Luxembourg”, Poopsvisite zu Letzebuerg: Press Information, 1985, 10.
  4. ^ “About Multi-Cultural Luxembourg”, Publications du Gouvernement du Grand-Duché de  Luxembourg, p. 17,
  5. ^ “Les Religions au Luxembourg”, Le Centre d’Etudes de Populations, de Pauvreté et de Politiques socio-économiques, CEPS/INSTEAD,