Calais: Bishop of Arras celebrates Christmas mass alongside migrants


Bishop Olivier Leborgne, in a temperature of less than 10 degrees, celebrated a mass on Friday evening near a migrant camp.

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 a colleague from Agence France Presse.

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 priest Philippe Demeestere at the origin of the ceremony

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, » Bishop Olivier Leborgne, Bishop of Arras, told AFP.

This « rotten weather », these « poor means », « 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, « the first Sunday of Advent », he has been camping regularly with Eritrean exiles.

« The dignity of exiled people is often forgotten, even flouted »

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 certain number of servants of the State do all they can « , estimates Mgr Leborgne.

But « our position is that these people are human persons » and « under the pretext that they would be there in conditions which are not regular, (…) I cannot act as if human dignity would be relative, « he says.

« The dignity of people in exile is often forgotten, even flouted, » he regrets, also saying that he is « astonished » at « the follow-up » to the measures proposed in November by Didier Leschi.

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