A makeshift church in the Calais migrants’ camp known as “The Jungle” has recently caught the attention to the media. This church may soon be on Songs of Praise and has even been honoured with a visit from the Reverend Giles Fraser.
The church in question is an Ethiopian Orthodox church, frequented by Ethiopians and Eritreans. The Ethiopian Orthodox are not in communion with Rome or indeed Constantinople, but part of the family of Churches that did not accept the Council of Chalcedon and are usually designated “Oriental Orthodox” (as opposed to Eastern Orthodox). The Daily Mail has picked up the story, and has helpfully identified the Rev Giles Fraser as a “left-winger”.
Why this little church should attract such media attention is not altogether clear. There are numerous such churches all over Africa. It is only natural that immigrants from Africa should want to have a church while they endure the boredom of life in Calais where they have no work, and no fixed abodes, indeed no fixed anything. Some might think that the building of a church would be low on the list of their priorities, but actually the opposite is true, which tells you something about the character of our of African brethren and human nature in general.
One thing the presence of this church does tell us is that not all the migrants are Muslim, though anecdotal evidence – such as the names of those interviewed on television, and the dress of many of them – suggests that the majority may well be.
There are of course other churches in Calais, Catholic ones, who have long been involved in helping the migrants in whatever way they can. This has not been widely publicised, though Vatican Radio has spoken of the work of the parish priest of Saint Vincent de Paul in Calais, Father Jean-Marie Rauwel, as you can hear here, in French. As for Italy, where so many migrants first step ashore in Europe, there they receive much help from Caritas, the official Catholic charity. Needless to say, Catholics and their charities help everyone, not just their fellow Catholics.
The migrants present us with a problem as Catholics. They are human beings who like all human beings should receive our charity. They represent the challenge expressed in the parable of the Good Samaritan. At the same time they are illegals, and they are also disrupting the legitimate traffic going through the Channel Tunnel and damaging its fence. While many warn us against “demonising” them, that is all very well, but if someone damages a fence, that is a criminal offence, is it not? I would not be allowed to get away with it if I were to try and trespass on railway property, would I? The reply to that is, of course, that there are no circumstances in my life that would drive me to such an action. That is perfectly true.
Before us is a stark choice. Either we enforce the law – more fences, more dogs, more arrests, more deportations – or we change the law. We cannot continue as we do at present, with a set of laws that we only half keep. So: either bulldoze the Jungle and the little Ethiopian Church (which might evoke very different responses in the breasts of Guardian-readers and Mail-readers), or enable the people living there to migrate legally. It has got to be one or the other. The Jungle has to go. Judging by the way things are now, the current situation is not just unclear, it is farcical for the government, and tragic for the migrants.
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