Following an invitation by the President of the Bishops' Conference, I shall come to Reims on September 22, 1996, as I want to strengthen my bonds with you who have given me a warm welcome in Rome, and with the Bishops of France. I also wish to maintain full communion with our church, even if it leads us on difficult paths.

You will be celebrating the 1500 anniversary of the baptism of Clovis. Like many others I am questioning the ambiguities of that event. Clovis, a warrior elevated to the rank of founder of the Nation... The baptism of the king of the franks becoming that of an entire folk.

Rough historical estimates and theological interpretations give birth to polemics which encourage those nostalgic of the past. Fundamentalist trends among traditional Catholics and members of the National Front* hijack your messages to their own ends When they say: " Clovis is france ", they reject the France of today and are afraid of the France of the future.

You are coming to a country suffering from serious social inequalities. A great number of my fellow citizens worry about the deterioration of working conditions and the increase of social exclusion. The revolt of the disenfranchised is spreading throughout the country. Recently, some three hundred Africans took refuge in Paris church. The Republic which can adopt a friendly attitude when it comes to commemorating Clovis, has used brutal police force to evacuate these Africans, at the same time devastating the church and ignoring the traditional right of sanctuary.

In the first instance, Church and State go hand in hand, in the second one, the French episcopate remains silent. One has almost the impression that a church besieged by the police is of no concern to it.

I should like to draw your attention to the fact that on september 22, the day of Clovis's baptism, we could celebrate another anniversary - that of the birth of the first French Republic. If only to recall that one of the separation of church and state, the principle of secularity.

Such political progress is linked with individual freedom. And Christian believers can but claim their right to such freedom, freedom to speak and act, freedom to fight injustice and to commit therselves to helping the weakest. In the face of any kind of power, cost what it may.

At the beginning of your pontificate you reminded us that christ said: "Fear not". More than ever we need to hear these words. The people of France who are about to greet you must overcome their fears.

May you also take the time to hear what they wish to tell you.

Jacques Gaillot
Bishop of Partenia

* National Front: political party of the extreme rigth.

A letter from Jacques Gaillot (September 1, 1996)

The rebellion of the disenfranchised

It has spread from town to town like a brush-fire on a dry summer day. A spark has set it off. A handfull of those disenfranchised have been bold enough to raise their heads and shout: 'It's impossible to go on living like that!" Others followed their protest. We wanted to ignore them but they came out of hiding to show their faces, to remind us that they also had a name and a dignity. They have invaded the media. Their days of silence and shame are over, when they had to go in hiding and shut up. Fear is forgotten, now it is their turn to speak up. Some of them even went further, starting a hunger-strike.

In the midst of the usual August torpor a draft was born which ten changed into a strong wind. And the fire spread. It is now in full blaze. The rebellion of the disenfranchised has taken on a national and political magnitude. And it doesn't look like it were going to calm down. This is a worrying situation and the government has had to take it seriously.

300 Africans have taken possession of a church in the center of Paris. An imminent intervention of the police is expected. The medias constantly inform us of the threats made against the african families. Demonstrations of support are organised in various gathers around the church. It remains there day and night, protecting the foreigners as if they were a treasure. People coming from everywhere are building up an opposition. If you harm the Africans, you harm them as well.

The rebellion of the disenfranchised will be a memorable event. The humiliated are raising their voice and organising themselves. the outcasts of society rally : they want to be heard. And as they emerge out of darkness, we are confronted with the question of integration and togetherness. Political power has made a mistake when it treated with contempt those whom it only considered as foreigners, forgetting that their forefathers had given their lives while defending our soil. A country which over-protects itself is putting up prison walls around all its citizens. Our closed borders threaten us with death.

Those in power have chosen repression instead of negotiation.

1 500 CRS (special police force) have brutally given assault, breaking open the doors of the church with axes. Tear-gas was used against children and hunger-strikers. Everybody was arrested. Such a raid reminds us of war-time rounding-ups. What a disgrace!

Jacques Gaillot

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