In Calais, a lesson in brotherhood

A hunger strike in a church? Since October 10, a priest and two volunteers have set up their camp beds in the walls of Saint-Pierre, a church in downtown Calais. The goal: to obtain a winter break from the police in the way they treat migrants.

In a church? To tell the truth, it was not obvious. Wasn’t the church going to be “taken hostage”, finding itself at the heart of a political battle against the prefecture, in which it had nothing to do? Would it not hinder the faithful to pray and celebrate? And then, a hunger strike, basically, is it really “Catholic”? Is this not an exerted blackmail, with a threat of injury to life? By really the style of Catholics in France …

The risk was taken. Anaïs Vogel, Ludovic Holbein and Father Philippe Demeestère, chaplain at Secours Catholique, have therefore stopped eating and are standing in a small side chapel in the building. Basically, few parishioners do not understand them. Here, many are engaged with migrants. And all are fed up with the methods of the police who, refusing to see a new camp set up, come and destroy the tents in the early hours of the morning, disperse the belongings, to chase people away, often in the rain and in the mud, in an exhausting hunt. to the man. Food distributions have become impossible and the number of people in hospital following police violence is increasing… The strikers’ demands are minimal: that the dismantling and the confiscation of personal belongings cease during the winter and that a dialogue be re-established with the State for areas of humanitarian intervention. Everyone here remembers the young Yasser Abdallah, 20, Sudanese, who died on September 28 when he was run over by a truck. On the day of the white march in his memory, his friends were dislodged and their belongings taken …

As one parishioner confides, “One may want to take measures against immigration at the national level. But faced with a family settled in any way with its two children of 4 and 6 years old, we are simply sent back to human level ”. Here, “The priority is to feed, clothe, rescue”. It is a question of humanity. And efficiency. Impossible for associations, under this constant pressure, to do long-term work, to find viable solutions. Everything is called into question, every day.

If a small minority of fundamentalists came to put up some posters to protest against what they call a “Profanation”, the majority of parishioners accept this hunger strike. It even helped shed light on practices unworthy of our time. It attracted media. Activists who never set foot in a church came to support the strikers, discovering in passing that this place is also a place of life. Finally Sunday, police officers in civilian clothes passed. A way of showing that they do not all agree with what they are asked to do … Associations, residents, journalists, police officers who meet there: basically, was there a better place to go on strike? from hunger? With the Sauvé report, Catholics were harshly reminded by the state of their duty to obey the laws of the Republic. The small church of Calais shows that the reverse is also true, where three strikers remind the State to respect its own laws, and to this principle so proudly inscribed on the pediment of all town halls: fraternity.


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