Maison Bakhita opens its doors in Paris



The tables in the living room are already in place, the office chairs are still covered with their protective plastic. La Maison Bakhita (1) at 5 ter rue Jean-Cottin in the 18e arrondissement of Paris smells of new and fresh paint: everything is ready to welcome the 150 migrants expected in this 1,400 m² building belonging to the diocese.

On Saturday September 25, on the occasion of World Migrant and Refugee Day 2021, celebrated the next day, the diocese and the town hall of Paris will jointly inaugurate this place of resources, support and meeting for migrants. A project on track since 2018, inspired by Pope Francis’ call a year earlier to “ welcome, protect, promote and integrate any migrant “.

Our role is to offer training and support for the integration of migrants, who are referred to us by associations. », Declares Isabelle Cauchois, director of the house. Located on the second, third and fourth floors of a building from 18e district, Maison Bakhita is run by 70 volunteers and 40 partner associations. It hosts digital workshops, cooking, sewing, French language and culture, theater… This structure is intended as a place of rest, where the people welcomed can be trained while putting down their burden.

“The goal is not to replace pre-existing associations but to complement their action”, specifies the director of the house, herself from the associative world. Installed alongside the director of the house, Father Laurent Stalla-Bourdillon, director of the service for information professionals, explains the foundations of the project. “ Maison Bakhita is not an emergency service linked to survival. It honors the relational quality, the bond, the culture, which are also vital needs. “

On the second floor, the refurbished premises already have a brand new semi-professional kitchen. President of the Maison Bakhita association, Anne Duthilleul wanders around the room, already imagining the cooking classes that will be held there. “From this fridge, the pupils will take out the vegetables, then wash them in this large sink before cutting them on this work surface …” Isabelle Cauchois nevertheless specifies: “The training provided by volunteers at Maison Bakhita is not intended to replace real professional training, but to serve as a springboard, to prepare migrants. “

On the other side of the corridor, the multi-reception crèche, which should accommodate six neighborhood children and six little migrants, has just received the twelve nap beds. Because Maison Bakhita is not only intended to serve as a venue for workshops: “We want the house to be a place of conviviality, of meeting, recalls Isabelle Cauchoix. So that everyone can share a coffee, a movie night or a game afternoon. “ Start by having children play together whose stories have nothing in common. On the third floor, the association “Aux captifs la liberation” is already running a sewing workshop in a newly renovated room. At the end of the corridor, the association has installed a small oratory. “We have signed the charter of secularism which prohibits proselytism, but we have an assumed Christian identity, while being unconditional welcome”, assures the director of the establishment.

To keep the house alive, the diocese was particularly keen to welcome a religious presence, with the presence of two sisters from the Congregation of Missionary Sisters of S. Charles Borromeo Scalabrinian. “When it was created at the end of XIXe century, this Italian congregation’s mission was to accompany Italian migrants to their places of migration, details Anne Duthilleul. Today, it is migrants who arrive in Italy. “ Through this project, the management team and the diocese hope to both show the engaged face of the Church, and “Encourage Catholics to open their eyes and their homes to migrants”, insists Claire Rossignol, diocesan delegate for the pastoral care of migrants. And Isabelle Cauchois to add: “On the issue of welcoming migrants, Maison Bakhita wants to be a sign of the Church’s commitment. “

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