Learning French culture was part of a July spiritual visit to France shared by a group of four Maine young people from Brunswick, Topsham and Randolph with two group leaders.

They joined a non-denominational youth pilgrimage at a monastery in Taize and spent several days in Paris. Their experiences reminded at least one young man from Maine to think about Maine’s shared Franco-American history with France.

Michael Schuman, 16, of Topsham, is a member of the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church youth group in Brunswick. A senior at Mr. Ararat High School this fall, Schuman is an energetic student who enjoys playing baseball.

The youth group planned and raised money for over two years to prepare for their journey to join a pilgrimage at Taize as part of the parish Journey to Adulthood program.

They arrived at the French monastery in July to find they were among 3,000 to 4,000 thousand other young international pilgrims from countries all over Europe. Only about 14 of the youths were from the United States.

Schuman returned home filled with enthusiasm for the French history, art and culture he learned during the group’s 10 day stay in Taize and Paris.

Although Schuman hoped he could learn to speak some French while at the monastery, he was surprised when the European youths wanted to speak to him in English.

“Each European group had a French language interpreter to help them translate the daily Bible lessons, but I found many of the youth attendees spoke English,” he says.

After the five-day pilgrimage ended, the group from Maine went to Paris for three days where they stayed in a hostel at The American Church in Paris. They slept on sofas and lounges in a room located in a lower level of the spiritual center.

“We squeezed in as much sightseeing as we could in three days,” says Schuman.

In Paris, they visited Musee d’Orsay, the Catacombs, the Louvre Museum, Sainte Chapelle (a small chapel built by King Louis IX), Napolean Bonaparte’s tomb and walked the Champs Elysees. Inside the Louvre Museum they saw Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” and the statue of Venus de Milo.

They were able to see Notre Dame Cathedral, but were too short on time to stand in the extraordinarily long line to tour inside the sanctuary.

“I was surprised by how much French history and culture we learned,” he says.

Schuman, who has studied French history in high school, said that seeing where events happened impressed him.

“Our visit made French history, culture and language come alive. Pictures in our high school text books explain French history, but in Paris we saw where events happened,” he says.

“We saw the painting of the coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte. At the Musee d’Orsay we saw Monet’s Water Lilies. I enjoyed looking at the beautiful French architecture all over France especially in Paris,” he says.

Schuman says his 10 days in France caused him to think about whether or not there are similarities between the French and Maine’s Franco-American heritage.

“I didn’t know how connected Maine’s Franco-Americans are to France,” he says.

He’d like to find out more about the shared culture. “I want to learn if Franco-Americans have a deep and long cultural heritage like France. Do we have the same French heritage here in Maine as in France?” he asks.

Meeting new international friends and the discussions Schuman enjoyed during his week at the monastery in Taize was enjoyable.

“A few more days in Paris would have been even more fun,” he says. “Paris is a particularly beautiful city.”