Témoignages - 7 January 2011

en - ‘The love of Christ urges us...."

To become involved with immigrants ?

This was a summons from the General Chapter : for many of us it has been a reality for several decades.

My involvement with migrants dates back to the beginning of my life as a Little Sister of the Assumption. In the fifties, I was assigned to St Etienne and then to St Chamond, two cities where the presence of foreign workers, especially Algerians, was very much in evidence : they had been brought in to work in the mines and as metal-workers. Some of them came with their families and we were often asked to visit as home-helps or nurses, especially for home births as these young women had neither family nor friends to help out. We were always well received with the customary hospitality of these populations and notwithstanding that we were at war, the war in Algeria which had caused such intense suffering. Some husband would ask : "If I disappear who will take care of my wife and children ?.‟ This awakened awareness of a population compromised by colonisation.

Later, I came to St Denis where Portuguese and Maghrebin workers live in immense shanty towns in intolerable conditions.
Transferred to Paris, there were the grim years of Latin – America. I welcome refugees, befriend them, inform myself and inform others. For several years, I was a team member of DIAL. With Justice and Peace France, I worked in the Commission set up by the Bishops of France to study questions arising from immigration.
In Rouen, I discovered yet more the African migrants : pastoral to migrants, catechetics for Senegalese, groups of islamo-christian women. At Bourges, the „Comité de Vigilance‟ for the protection of the rights of foreigners, a pluralist committee, embracing „Secours Catholique‟, the trade unions of the south, pastoral to immigrants at Communist Party, are increasingly involved in the befriending and protection of the rights of asylum seekers and the non-documented. “We collaborate with others in seeing that persons are respected.” R.L. 21
Thi
s reminiscing brings back many faces, names, men, women and children, families separated, divided, torn apart : individual stories but also stories of peoples. „We travel with them on a journey of exodus and liberation, the path of the covenant.‟ RL 17

I live this commitment in community and supported by the community (RL 22). At this time, it is a case of trying to discern together the best course of action to take in order to help foreigners threatened with expulsion.

As a woman and as a citizen I am concerned…
The challenge is enormous. Migration to-day impacts on millions of people. It will probably impact even greater numbers in the years to come what with climate change giving rise to flooding (e.g. In Bangladesh), famine and war.

We cannot be indifferent to the politics of our countries : ‘The Church must not and cannot undertake the political struggle to build a more just society. It cannot and must not take the place of the state. But neither can the church remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. It must be part of this effort through reasoned discussion. The Church must re-awaken spiritual values without which, justice, which requires unselfishness, can neither assert itself nor develop.‟ (Benedict xvI, Encyclical : God is Love no.28)
I find the current policies in France towards foreigners and the resulting bitterness very painful. At the same time, I do understand that the problem is very complex and that there is no simple answer. I see increasingly the importance of
lobbying at government level, the action of pressure groups : „… to make solidarity effective as a force for transformation, to create a new world through working with others in networks, associations, campaigns (Chapter 2005).
Many of us are working on the ground with the migrants and often with others. I feel it is very important to be pro-active in these networks, including the pluralist networks where you meet up with diverse options. There the visibility and the credibility of the Church are at stake :"it is great to work together." This has broken down my prejudices. I never expected this from a „good sister‟ ! »

…As a Christian and as a Little Sister of the Assumption
At the origin of my vocation God‟s word to Moses reverberated deep within me : ‘I have seen the misery of my people, I have heard their cry...’ (Ex.3:7) God is he who ‘gives justice to the oppressed, bread to the hungry, supports the widow and the orphan’ Ps 146:7-9). When he showed Jesus to the people, humiliated, scorned, rejected, crowned with thorn« it‟s great to work s and condemned to death, Pilate exclaimed : ‘Behold the Man !’ (Jn 19:5) The centurion echoes this later : ‘Truly, this man was a Son of God !’ (Mc 15:39)
To see in every humiliated, rejected, tortured man a son of God, or rather, the Son of God, is there a more urgent motive to protect the rights of this particular person ? For Jesus, nobody is excluded, nobody can be discarded and there are no surplus people… Each is precious in God’s eyes : the name of each is engraved in the palm of His Hand.
Nevertheless, in spite of strong convictions, involvement with refugees and the undocumented can be difficult for one‟s faith. Every encounter, every story we listen to, places us in the forefront of the mystery and the scandal of suffering and evil.
How can one speak of God to people who have lived through this kind of suffering ? Why should the innocent suffer so… ? If God exists and He loves us, how can this be possible ?

The second scandal I come up against is the enormity of evil and the multiple forms it takes : it is at macro level : wars, corporate interests, drive for power, rivalries, the widening gulf between words and action. (PNUD : 90 billion dollars allocated to development 900 billion allocated for weapons), the ever increasing divergence between rich and poor etc.

And then there is the everyday evil : all that is hidden in the heart of human beings, including my own : untruths, cheating, taking advantage of the vulnerable, indifference, racism, excuses and human freedom ? While we are called to not consent to this suffering, this evil, we are invited to be clear-sighted : it is true that some refugees do not tell the truth (and we understand that). It is true that there is a lot of false documentation around and that people are sometimes taken advantage of by their compatriots – and even by their families.
Understand them : do not judge them : and yet, know how to get to the truth, in their interest we must do this to be credible ourselves.

Involved with very different people, I myself am fully committed to my own Church. Many Christians on the ground are involved with migrants, especially in the suburbs : some parishes concern for undocumented persons have been outstanding. However, many Catholics share prejudices against immigrants and foreigners : the influence of Le Pen1 has been spoken about. At election time, the question of immigration is particularly fraught and it is used to stir up fear.

 French Politic Party against Immigration.
Every year the Pope publishes a letter for „Migrants Day‟. How does it resonate in our communities, our parishes, in our Church gatherings of which we are a part ? In some parishes, there are large numbers of immigrants : do they all have their place there ?

As an international Congregation, we are aware of the riches inherent in encountering different cultures, different ways of thinking both between ourselves and with the laity with whom we share work and spirituality. Do we know how to use it ?
With other Congregations, could we take a stand together more often with other organisations to alert or protest against such and such a measure, or piece of legislation ?

Does globalisation, the mixing and intermingling of races and population prefigure the Kingdom to come ?
Where we are involved with immigrants, we see mainly the drama and the pain. But it isn‟t all like that.

How rich these multi-cultural exchanges are ! What enjoyment in the various festivals with song and dance from everywhere where sweetmeats from Europe Asia, Africa are savoured ! What fervour in the marking of feasts and Easter where the different assembled communities celebrate their faith, one faith in diverse expressions.
Through all the vicissitudes of the Exodus and the Exile, are we not on our way to the celestial Jerusalem, where ’`all will be recapitulated in Christ", and where an immense crowd whom no one can number from all the nations, all the peoples and all tongues (Apoc.7,9) ?

Rose-Marie Chaine LSA