The Pope has joined the growing chorus of French clergymen who have rebuked Nicolas Sarkozy's government over its policy of sending Roma people back to their home countries.
Pope Benedict XVI voiced his discontent with French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s policy of deporting Roma people on Sunday, echoing numerous similar statements from French clergymen over the past few weeks.
The Pope urged French pilgrims to welcome people of all origins, saying that the scriptures were “an invitation to know how to accept legitimate differences among humans, just like Jesus came to pull men together from every nation, speaking every language."
While ambiguous, the pontiff’s statements came just few days after France flew around 200 Roma to Bulgaria and Romania on “a voluntary basis”. His words were delivered in French to a group of French pilgrims visiting Rome.
The pope also asked parents to educate their children in tolerance. "Dear parents, may you be able to educate your children to universal fraternity," he told pilgrims from Paris in French.
The Vatican had already criticised the crackdown in a statement on Friday. "One cannot generalise and take an entire group of people and kick them out," said Agostino Marchetto, the secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, a Vatican body.
In France, the archbishop of Aix-en-Provence and Arles on Sunday decried the “talk of security which may suggest that inferior populations exist.”
The cardinal before the Pope
These latest statements follow an avalanche of like-minded criticism from members of the French clergy during the Feast of the Assumption celebrated on August 15.
In his homily, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris and president of the French Bishop’s Conference, asked parishioners “Can we take part in the growing gap between citizens who enjoy the security of civil rights and those who are marginalised and pushed slowly into exclusion? What price do we pay for our security? Or rather, whom are we forcing to pay for it?”
The previous day, the cardinal – who usually steers clear of politics - told reporters that he regretted the “protectionist reflexes of those who fear the future, fear losing what they have, as more and more people are marginalised.”
Besides interior minister Brice Hortefeux, who on Monday told radio station Europe 1 that he was “fully prepared to meet [...] cardinal André Vingt-Trois,” the rest of Sarkozy’s ruling party has remained silent to the Church’s criticism.
On the France 2 television channel, agriculture minister Bruno Le Maire, only briefly made vague allusions to the "separation of church and state” when prodded on the issue.
But the measures against the Roma seem to be fuelling discontent with its Christian Democrat allies.
In early August, writing in the Christian magazine La ViePinte warned the government against a rebellion within the party. “If the government ventures down the path drawn by the president, we can expect a showdown with the Christian Democrats,” he said.