LOURDES, France — The president of the French bishops' conference criticized his country's attitudes to Roma and migrants and urged the Catholic Church to lead the way in upholding "fraternity, justice and solidarity" with the poorest.
"People of Bulgarian and Romanian origin have come to live in our country, and for several years now, we've seen no policy offered other than of refusing acceptance to the greatest number," said Archbishop Georges Pontier of Marseille.
"Destroying a shantytown can be justified on grounds of evident hygiene. But is destroying it so urgent, when this means abandoning those who've sought a temporary family refuge there to a new life of wandering with no prospects?" he asked in his Nov. 5 opening address to the bishops' autumn plenary at the Marian sanctuary of Lourdes.
Archbishop Pontier said many Roma and migrants were ready to learn French and integrate with society. He said that even those "behaving reasonably and peacefully" were denied means to live and left prey to acts of violence and "hateful, unrestrained remarks."
"Our society will not grow and prosper by refusing solidarity and fraternity -- by denying brotherhood to the most deprived, who are thereby stigmatized, alienated and ignored," the 70-year-old archbishop said.
"The gulf between richest and poorest in our country will instead get wider and wider, as between our country and our planet. Blindness is a serious matter, since it inflicts injury on the most deprived."
The archbishop said the church wished to "show regard for the most fragile," accompanying this with "actions and initiatives."
He added that France's bishops would follow the pope in choosing "a simple life, both personally and in the church," and in showing "compassion, charity and pity" for Christians worldwide "who celebrate their faith and hope under the ever-present threat of bombs."
The Nov. 5-10 plenary is expected to discuss help for Christian communities in the Middle East, as well as steps to encourage priestly vocations and preparations for municipal and European Parliament elections in early 2014.