Log-book: August 2005
At the prison of Caen Fighting families Missionary celebration Parents of children
At the prison of Caen
I took the train for Caen with Raouf Oufkir, the son of General Oufkir who tried to depose the king of Morocco, Hassan II by a coup d'Etat.
His book relates his long years of confinement and his extraordinary escape. It did not take more to flare up some prisoners. Hence they expressed the wish to meet Raouf with the complicity of the chaplain.
In the past I visited this prison reserved for prisoners with long time sentences and I always wondered: how can someone live 10 years, 20 years deprived of his freedom?
In the hall of worship, about 20 prisoners gather. Two of them read with great emotion the text they had prepared with all heart to welcome us.
Very rapidly, the question of pardon was raised. What is forgiveness? It is not enough to say that it is not to forget and that it does not erase the injustice that was committed. Raouf had the good fortune of bringing everyone to himself: " you, who recognize that you are guilty, are you able to make part of the way towards the victim? "
Mourad, a young Moroccan interrupts: "Forgiveness does not exist ". " Sure it does " answered Raouf. " I am the living proof it does exist. I have forgiven my torturers. "
" Me, said another, I took time to recognize my guilt. I carry a wound. However why bother to make part of the road if the victim does nothing? ". " The important thing said Raouf, is the effort you make towards the victim. "
An older prisoner spoke: " for myself, I have no more bitterness, nor do I feel revenge. I have freed myself from it. Mourad is impressed by this exchange.
In the outskirts of Paris, African families live crammed together with their young children in studios and hotel rooms or in slums. The Mayor refuses to meet them. For years, their demands are on the waiting list at city hall.
With the support of the Committee for the unemployed and wage earners, they decided to occupy an old residence for the elderly, closed and empty for the last three months.
During 15 days, these new tenants valued this large residence. But, one morning the police came to evacuate everybody: 21 families with their 45 children were thrown into the streets. The doors of the residence were immediately blocked. People joined forces.
Asked to bring my support, I went to meet the families at the end of an afternoon in front of the town hall where they are camping with their mattresses. The children are playing. Men are coming back from work. The women with their enchanting and colourful dresses invite me for tea. I am greeted as one of the family. One of them said to me: " I have been waiting for you for two days! " I admire their determination. They are aware of their dignity and their force.
The delegation that met with the officials of city hall came towards us. They seem relaxed. The Prefect resolved the situation. It is a victory.
" In half an hour we have obtained what we have been asking for since the last three months".
A Spiritan missionary came back from Benin to his native Vendée for the summer.
I have a great esteem for him. He is a man dedicated to others, like Jesus.
Forty years ago, he was ordained in the church of his village. To commemorate this event, all the family gathered in a joyful reunion around him. Is he not the priest of the family who has baptised and married so many nephews and nieces? The mass of thanksgiving is full of life and emotion. I am the stranger that is present to give the sermon.
The feast is followed by a large picnic next to a pond.
I am next to a young father who felt the urge to tell me: " The Church does not interest me anymore. I have become indifferent. I do not go to Church anymore. The important, are the people. "
Thus, in this family so unanimously Christian, a rebel was hidden. A friendly rebel.
His presence in the middle of his kin can be beneficial to their faith and his questioning a path for improvement.
Before I left, I whispered in his ear: " stay a rebel ".
Parents of children
In Nantes, young school children were risking being expulsed. They were of foreign origin. Their families had not yet received their official papers.
Children are usually arrested at the end of the classes and sometime police even go into the schools! When it comes to children, we feel concerned.
Parents of the children took action immediately. " As parents, we refuse to see the friends of our children being expulsed. " " In the past we were not activists but now we changed our minds".
The parents' Committee invited me to Nantes with Professor Jacquard.
Both of us took the train without even knowing what role we were expected to fill. We had no knowledge of the question. But the important thing was to be there and to show solidarity.
We started off by holding a press conference in the middle of the street surrounded by the families and the medias.
With the committee, we had a quick lunch at the restaurant. The woman owning the restaurant was so happy to welcome me that she embraced me and offered a free meal!
The delegation was received by the chairman of the regional council, then at the City Hall by the deputy Mayor. The humanitarian concern of the elected members was manifest. Negotiations met positive reactions. The committee was satisfied. We were free to take the train home.