France, Poland

France: the bishops with the rom and nomadsThe French bishops have entered the fray to restore serenity to a very delicate field of civil life: the presence of the community of travelling people in French cities. They added their voice to the debate a few days after the “sad events” that had occurred in the village of Saint-Aignan, in the Loire region; namely a series of violent clashes between gipsies and gendarmes that broke out after the killing of a 22-year-old youth who failed to stop at a road block. The President of the Republic Nicholas Sarkozy intervened on the case, speaking of the “extreme gravity of the events and the escalation of violence, especially against the police forces”. The French premier then announced an extraordinary summit to be held at the Elysée on 28 July, dedicated just to the “problems posed by the behaviour of some nomads and rom”. Its task would be to “review the situation throughout the country, and decide on the evacuation of [gipsy] encampments in an irregular condition”. The announcement aroused the immediate reaction and strong criticism of human rights associations, which accuse the government and the President of stigmatizing the whole community of travelling people on the basis of a single incident. The government’s critics include the Association Nationale des Gens du Voyage Catholiques (ANGVC) with which the French Bishops’ Conference has close links. The Catholic association calls the words of President Sarkozy “an odious stigmatization of all nomads and rom”, “which reinforces a futile and dangerous ‘ethnization’ of the debate, and leads in a direction far removed from the republican ideal”. In a press release, the French bishops cite the statement issued by ANGVC in which – underline the bishops – four human rights associations, for the first time acting in concert, ask the government to “eschew grand-standing announcements and seek instead concerted and determined political responses”. “We – write Mgr. Raymond Centène and Mgr. Claude Schockert, respectively Bishops of Vannes and Belfort-Montbéliard – support this demand”, especially wherever we feel responsible for “the daily situation of these people who have great difficulty in obtaining respect for their own rights to settlement, travel, education, work, healthcare and citizenship. As heads of the office for “Gitanes and Travelling People – continue the bishops – “we cannot resign ourselves to seeing gipsies and nomads victims of prejudices and confusions, scapegoats for the difficulties of our society, of which they have often been the first victims also in the past”. The bishops conclude: “We are convinced that the remedy to fear and insecurity is not to be found in a security crackdown, but can only be achieved through a long-term action aimed at fostering mutual respect and understanding. We appeal to our brothers and sisters in Christ, and also to all men and women of good will, travellers and those who have adopted a sedentary life, Rom and gadje, elected and simple citizens, to join with us in a process of ‘living together’ which alone can ensure a shared future and a peaceful society”. In the summit at the Elysée, President Sarkozy authorized the government to proceed to the evacuation of the 200 ascertained “illegal” camps within three months.Poland: the Warsaw Uprising”The Warsaw Uprising meant 63 days of the ‘love that calls’ and the ‘freedom that responds'”, said Polish Bishop Edward Materski, recalling the heroic struggle of the inhabitants of the Polish capital against Hitler’s troops in 1944, while on the other side of the river Vistula that runs through the city the Red Army waited for the completion of the massacre. The Warsaw Uprising broke out on 1 August 1944. Mgr. Materski, then a seminarian, took part in it together with other Poles, most of them younger than he, many mere children, after Stalin had dangled the promise of supplying arms to the insurgents so that – after five years of Nazi occupation – they would have the means to combat the common enemy. One of the 150 chaplains of the uprisers, Father Waclaw Karlowicz called Stalin’s promise “a terrible lie” since “it was precisely the Soviet Union that wanted the annihilation of Polish patriots at the hands of the Germans” who were still firmly entrenched in the city. During the uprising, the city’s population, mainly defenceless, succeeded in prolonging the battle for over two months, in spite of the ferocious bombardments and counter-attacks of the German forces. According to the latest estimates, some 150,000 Polish civilians died during the fighting, while a further 600,000 were deported by the Nazis to concentration camps outside the city. 98% of the city was destroyed. During the period of the Communist regime, attempts were made, over many years, to wipe out all memory of the uprising from the history books. To mark the forthcoming celebrations of the 66th anniversary of the uprising, a film in 3D realized with the help of the most advanced technologies will show the Polish capital razed to the ground, as it was in October 1944. The celebrations of the national day in memory of the insurgents will begin with a solemn liturgy of remembrance and continue with ecumenical prayers and many initiatives of a historical or artistic kind. Various events are also planned in the museum dedicated to the Warsaw Uprising, and realized in recent years on the initiative of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who died in the tragic plane crash at Smolensk on 10 April this year.

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