Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Who is my neighbour?

In the context of the campaign by French president Sarkozy against Roma migrants in France - at least that is the way one source in France was describing it, though it isn't perhaps a completely fair characterisation of the action that he has ordered against Roma encampments and people - there are one or two interesting pieces of news with regard to the action of the Catholic Church in support of migrants and travelling people.

A resignation

Though the timing suggests that it might be, the acceptance by Pope Benedict XVI of the resignation of the President of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelling Peoples, Mgr Agostino Marchetto, has in fact no connection to events in France. Mgr Marchetto has sought to resign as he reached 70 years of age, the age at which Apostolic Nuncio's offer their resignation.  He will continue in his post until a successor is appointed. Mgr Marchetto is known in Italy for his strong stance in favour of travelling people. According to the report of his resignation in La Croix, he had on two occasions (in February and July 2009) found himself "dropped" by the official Vatican spokesman after responding publicly to political developments in Italy that adversely affected traveller people. In recent days, he has been in step with several French bishops, and has asserted that, in his remarks to French visitors in Rome that they should learn how to know and accept differences between peoples, Pope Benedict did indeed want to say something to the French people:
« Le Saint-Père a voulu dire quelque chose à la France », confirme aujourd’hui Mgr Marchetto, ajoutant : « L’Église n’est ni de droite, ni de gauche. Elle ne souhaite pas entrer dans des discussions politiques, mais simplement proposer son regard sur ces personnes souffrantes. » ["The Holy Father wanted to say something to France", confirmed Mgr Marchetto today, adding: "The Church is neither of the right, or of the left. She does not wish to enter into political discussions, but simply to propose her concern for people who suffer".]

Mgr Marchetto perhaps touched on the core of the question when he insisted that it is not legitimate to "generalise and take a whole group of people and kick them out".

The Archbishop of Toulouse speaking in Lourdes
The pilgrimage of the Archiocese of Toulouse to Lourdes took place last week, and, on Friday last, the Archbishop, Mgr Robert Le Gall, spoke strongly against the actions of President Sarkozy's government. Other French bishops have also spoken out against the destruction of Roma encampments and the so-called voluntary return of Roma to their countries of origin, but what was special about Mgr Le Gall's contribution was his quotation of a pastoral letter written by one of his predecessors as Archbishop of Toulouse, a letter written in 1942 protesting against the deportation of Jews by the Germans:
"Jews are men and women... They are part of the human race. They are our brothers like so many others. A Christian cannot forget this" In August 2010, in France, encampments of Roma are dismantled and so-called voluntary expulsions from French territory are given great publicity. Before these activities and the repeated declarations of many members of the Government, we cannot remain silent ...
This has provoked outrage from some Jewish commentators, who object strongly to the comparison of the expulsions of the Roma to the deportations of the Jews. Mgr Le Gall has clarified in response that his intention had not been to draw a parallel between the deportation of the Jews and that of the Roma today but:
inviter les chrétiens et les hommes de bonne volonté à avoir la même attitude d’accueil, de respect et de fraternité envers les Roms que celle que son prédécesseur demandait aux catholiques du diocèse de Toulouse en août 1942. [to invite Christians and men of good will to have the same attitude of welcome, of respect, and of fraternity towards the Roma as that which his predecessor asked of the Catholics of the diocese of Tolouse in 1942.]
But, whilst one might not want to draw parallels between the two sets of events themselves, there certainly seem to be some underlying principles that are similar between the two sets of events: the use of force, a forced transfer from one territory to another (though not, of course, to forced labour and death - at this point the parallel clearly breaks down), a generalisation that blames a whole group for the criminal activities of only a part of the group and uses this as a justification for a persecution of the whole group, the group being based on a more or less racial basis.
The experience of travelling people in France
Every year, there is a pilgrimage of travelling people ("gens de voyage") to Lourdes. The pilgrimage this year was overshadowed by the actions of the French government against the Roma.
À l’occasion du 54e Pèlerinage catholique des Gitans et gens du voyage, à Lourdes, et de la convention annuelle évangélique de Chaumont, les gens du voyage sont venus dire leur souffrance et leur colère face à la stigmatisation dont ils sont l’objet depuis plusieurs semaines.....les pèlerins de Lourdes se sentent de plus en plus stigmatisés. « C’est beaucoup plus dur cette année. Quand on rentre dans les magasins, les gens sont plus distants que d’habitude. Ils nous dévisagent des pieds à la tête, alors qu’ils nous connaissent. Les vigiles nous surveillent de près. C’est blessant, on se sent rejetés »,  [On the occasion of the 54th Catholic pilgrimage of Gitanes and travelling people, in Lourdes, and of the annual evangelical convention at Chaumont, the travelling people came to express their suffering and their anger at the stigmatisation of which they have been the object for several weeks.... The pilgrims to Lourdes feel more and more stigmatised. "It is much harder this year. When we go into the shops, people are more distant than usual. They look us up and down, even though they know us. Security watches us closely. It is wounding, we feel rejected".]

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