Log-book: October 2005
Living in substandard conditions The annual festivities of the " L'Humanite" Newspaper At the Ministry of the Interior A Retreat for priests
Living in substandard conditions
Fires have caused deaths right in the middle of Paris. The buildings burned were run-down and unfit for habitation where families of immigrants were living. I went to visit these families who have lost their children in the blazes. They have feelings of anger while keeping their dignity.
I had met them for the first time in 1991. At that time they were camping on the grounds of Quai de la Gare where now the François Mitterrand Library is built. They had then been promised a new housing.
14 years later, these families are still waiting. I share the anger of these people. There is no fatality.
There are many empty buildings that are in good condition in Paris but the Prefects (government administrative officers) do not want to apply the Law for requisition.
The Law against exclusion forces the Mayors to have 20% of social housing in their towns. But many of them refuse to apply this Law.
As for the lessors of social housing, they privatise their housing units and make them profitable.
At this period of children going back to school, the Minister of the Interior has decided to evacuate the families from these run-down buildings and unfit for habitation. This goes on at daybreak.
I went to visit these Africans who live in a building just about to be evacuated. I climbed up to the 4th floor to meet Abdoulaye, a man from Mali who is 32 years old.
The families are afraid and sleep with their eyes open, waiting for the police. Their luggage is ready because they will have to leave fast. The rest has been placed in security in the houses of friends.
Abdoulaye has been in France the last 5 years. He has no official papers but has found a job. When he left Mali, he left his wife and an 8 months old child. He has not seen them since and now his wife has left him. He does not sleep in the building any more because he could be arrested by the police and sent back in his country. Abdoulaye, himself, keeps his dignity. He knows that God will not abandon him.
The annual festivities of the " L'Humanite" Newspaper
As it is the case every year, I like to attend the great gathering organized by the French Communist Party for the Paris area. People come from all over France and the festivities last for three days.
Debates are made on issues of the day, there are information booths, a section reserved for books, a programme of music performances and country cooking products which are always a great success.
I arrive by metro and bus that are crowded with young people. Impossible to make a mistake: we are all going to the same place.
This popular gathering has something unique that I find nowhere else. In this crowd where I am walking, there is no hierarchy between the people. Everyone is on the same level as everybody else. Here there is no title, no duties nor responsibilities for these human beings that meet on a equal basis. There is no place for relations of domination. This is so rare in day-to-day activities!
I take pleasure in greeting people. Most of the time I do not know them but they are happy to shake my hand.
On my wrist, a paper bracelet gives me access to the three-day celebration.
I will not be able to come on the last day, Sunday. As I was leaving the grounds, a young black man asked if I could give him my bracelet. I held out my wrist so he could take the bracelet: " It is an honour for me that it is now yours ".
At the Ministry of the Interior
The National Coordinating Committee of the people with no official papers has asked me to join the delegation going to meet the Head of the Cabinet of the Minister. There are 7 of us.
The first difficulty we had to overcome was to enter this highly secured government building, because many delegates had no official papers. The police officials were categorical: no identification, no entry in the building.
Then the African women started to use humour: " Hey, you certainly don't want to have the Head of the Cabinet waste his time, he is expecting us". They start negotiations over the phone and finally the situation was resolved.
A mémorandum is presented by one of the delegates on the dramatic, unjust and intolerable situations lived by people with no official papers on a day-to-day basis.
Children in age of schooling had been arrested in schools because they had no official papers. This had caused such a commotion in the school community that support committees were immediately formed.
There were initiatives taken so that children with no official papers could eat in the cafeteria. This way, we can be certain that they will eat at least one meal a day.
As for the sick, which sick person with no official papers can have the money to receive health care in his country of origin? If at all these structures exist?
The Head of the Cabinet listened carefully, asked questions and for more details.
He seemed quite surprised when I told him that never in 10 years had we experienced such a dramatic time for those with no official papers .
A Retreat for priests
The Cardinal of Lyon had asked me to lead a retreat for priests of his diocese. It is difficult to refuse the request of a Cardinal!
The retreat was held in the Aiguebelle Abbey that could accommodate 35 participants. We willingly attended the services for the Trappist Monks, except for the vigils during the night.
The mass was concelebrated in the morning in this beautiful Romanic Church. I gave the homily and I had to speak on two occasions during the day.
When I learned that the retreat would be in Aiguebelle, I immediately remembered the Thibirine Monks who had been slaughtered in Algeria. The Thibirine Monastery had been in fact founded by the Aiguebelle one. The Father Abbot and his community have links since a long time with the Muslim world.
The greeting by the monks was fantastic. The Father Abbot gave an interesting talk on his expectations from a monastic presence in the Muslim territory.
The Cardinal spoke one night to the priests in a direct and simple style. Many projects.
It was a gift for me to pass these five days in a fraternal atmosphere with priests full of human and spiritual experiences.
I witnessed once again that a life spent in the service of the Gospel is an adventure that shapes the heart of those who are committed.