“I pray that image and likeness of God in each person will enable us to acknowledge one another as sacred gifts endowed with immense dignity.” (Message from World Day of Peace, Pope Francis 2017)
At the beginning of August, the Cardinal of our Diocese had invited all the Catholics in Bordeaux to help the immigrants in our city. We were informed that three hundred immigrants were found in the streets after several squats in the city, and were dismantled and were desperately in need of help. The Pastoral Care for the Immigrants of the Diocese of Bordeaux joined the efforts with a Libertarian Group that had already been functioning and found a temporary residence for the Immigrants in a place at St. Michel district until the end of August.
We as a community discussed among ourselves reflected and decided that we would also encourage people to get involved in our efforts of helping our affected brothers and sisters. Our hearts were broken, and we plunged into immediate action to help and support them. On a Sunday Mass, we informed our parishioners, about the arrival of the Immigrants in Bordeaux and their plight at present and their needs and gave an open invitation to support and contribute with food items and any kind of essential items that would help the immigrants. They were very generous and compassionate, and lots of people responded immediately to our request and brought plenty of food items, like bread, milk, sugar, coffee powder, butter, cheese, eggs, jam, vegetables, fruits, biscuits, canned food items, rice, clothes, and varieties of useful items. The collected items in our house were loaded into two big vehicles. The next day our parishioners volunteered and transported these provisions to the Center at 7 rue de Muguet, in Bordeaux, where the immigrants were received and provided with breakfast and dinner. We had delivered the provisions twice to this Center. Again we made an announcement and our third collection would be delivered today.
The Pastoral Care for the Immigrants of the Diocese of Bordeaux had sent emails to different Associations inviting the members to help in serving the immigrants during break-fast and to support them in their engagement with the immigrants. We as a community accepted this invitation to work at the Center in serving our brothers and sisters. At different days Anne, Christaline and I go with another lady who is a volunteer, welcome the immigrants and do our service at the Center in Rue Mueguet. In the mornings, we travel by car, by tram, and by bus and reach the Center. We arrange the tables and chairs, clean and set the tables for the breakfast, and serve them. We are moved by the presence of the immigrants at the Center and our hearts are filled with compassion. We serve them with love, zeal and with the generous spirit. The Immigrants are looked after well with care, empathy, and human dignity. The center is well organized and there are volunteers who take different responsibilities in the functioning of the Center. There are volunteers who cook the dinner daily, except two days when the Center does not open to them. In the evenings dinner is served from 6.30 p.m till 8.30 p.m
The Immigrants consist of young ladies, young men, and families with infants and children. For their meals, they need to come to the Center from their temporary residence. So they arrive in groups at the Center at different times until noon. At times some Immigrants help the volunteers. We work together with several volunteers. We start our service at 9.30 a. m and usually we do five services till mid-day and return home in the afternoons. They happily accept and appreciate the service done to them. But it is very painful when we speak to them. They have left their countries, their relatives and friends, lost their homes and jobs. We could trace their worries, anxiety, and sadness on their faces. They live with worries due to the uncertainty of their future and security, due to their health, due to the difficulty of finding a home and work to support their families, due to the need of educating their children, etc. Further, at the moment they have no official documents for their stay here.
At this juncture, I recall the statement of Gustavo Gutierrez, a Latin American theologian, a man of the people, “Authentic love tries to start with the concrete needs, and not with the ‘duty’ of practicing love. Love is respectful of others and therefore feels obliged to base its action on an analysis of their situation and needs” (We Drink from Our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People, Gustavo Gutierrez)
At the end of this month, the Center for welcoming and providing with meals to the Immigrants will be closed and the Pastoral Care for the Immigrants of the Diocese of Bordeaux is searching for a place to continue to help and support the Immigrants. We give thanks to the Lord for all who have given themselves and contributed in different ways in helping the Immigrants. It is a good experience of doing a little help to the people who are fragile, broken and in search for a new beginning in another land. We will continue to pray and have our hope that something good will continue to happen by the people who have a loving and generous heart for humanitarian action. Universal love and fruitfulness of life will nurture a just, peaceful, sustainable and reconciled world.