Calais: Bishop of Arras celebrates Christmas mass alongside migrants

About a hundred people, including 25 migrants, associations and Calais residents, attended a Christmas mass on Friday evening, celebrated in a parking lot near a camp area in Calais.

About a hundred people, including 25 migrants, associations and Calaisians who came to support them, attended a Christmas mass on Friday evening, celebrated by the Bishop of Arras in a car park near a camp area in Calais, noted an AFP journalist.

In a temperature of less than 10 degrees, but spared from the rain, they gathered around an arbor, where an altar was summarily set up on a side table. They huddled together on a few benches, lawn chairs, or standing, listening and praying for an hour before sharing a hot drink.

The migrants present were mainly Eritreans, of the Orthodox faith, used to camping near this wasteland east of Calais, where associations distribute meals on a daily basis. « The situation is so precarious for these people that I prefer to be with them», Explained to AFP the bishop of Arras Mgr Olivier Leborgne.

The Bishop of Arras Olivier Leborgne blesses a faithful. SAMEER AL-DOUMY / AFP

This « bad weather« , those « middle poor», «these are the real conditions in which these people live», Commented Father Philippe Demeestere, at the origin of this ceremony. He proposed the idea in October, when he was on a hunger strike to denounce the « inhuman » treatment inflicted on migrants on the coast of North and Pas-de-Calais, the starting point for crossings to the ‘England.

This Secours Catholique chaplain had stopped eating for 25 days, notably calling for an end to camp evacuations. Since November 28, « first sunday of advent”, He regularly camps with the Eritrean exiles.

SEE ALSO – In Calais, the priest Demeestère announces he will stop his hunger strike in support of migrants

The dispatch of a mediator by the government, the head of the French Office for Immigration and Integration (Ofii), Didier Leschi, did not help to calm the situation. Since then, the death of 27 people in the Channel has revived criticism of the fate of migrants.

«For having spoken a lot about it with associations, political authorities and also with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, (…) I cannot be naive, and I know that the situation is extremely complex. » and « that a number of servants of the state are doing all they can», Estimates Mgr Leborgne.

Most « our position is that these people are human » and « under the pretext that they would be there in conditions which are not regular, (…) I cannot act as if human dignity is relative», He slices. « The dignity of people in exile is often forgotten or even violated», He regrets, also saying«surprised » from « the follow-upTo the measures proposed in November by Didier Leschi.


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