In France, an Evangelical Gypsy group shakes up the immigration debate
In France, a movement from within the Gypsy community could temper what have been bad relations with European governments amid a hot immigration debate.
(Page 3 of 3)
Prayer leaders insist Sarkozy knows the difference. He's has visited their meetings, they say, but is playing politics. “We are more French than Sarkozy,” says one, pointing to the president’s Hungarian heritage.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
A new European Union report says the wholesale shutdowns of the makeshift camps violates EU law. French officials argued strenuously at EU Commission meetings in Brussels recently that France is not out of compliance with EU law, and is not targeting an ethnic minority. Roma have been part of a serious increase in crime in Paris and elsewhere in France, they say.
Darkening atmosphere about immigrants in Europe
Still, the deportations come amid a darkening atmosphere in Europe about immigrants and minorities in general. This week a former Slovak soldier and nationalist shot and killed seven Gypsies who lived in his apartment building in a rampage that shocked that nation. Current debates and politics extend to Muslims, Islam, Arabs, and Africans as well who are changing the complexion of traditional Europe.
As a matter of faith, Gypsies traditionally identify with the main religion in the country they inhabit. Those in Turkey are Muslims. In India they are Hindu; Russia, Orthodox; France, Catholic. But after the war, a young pastor from a fisherman’s family in Breton, Clément Le Cossec, healed “through Christ” the ill mother of a Gypsy who came to his church and a young Gypsy whose case was described as incurable. By 1952, Le Cossec was pushed by Gypsies to train them. He separated from the French Assemblies of God when a Gypsy-focused mission was frowned on. “He explained that Gypsies had a special need, were poor but had faith, but this wasn’t understood,” his son, Paul Le Cossec, told the Monitor. “So he started his own mission.”
Le Cossec went on the road, living with Gypsies, learning their customs, language, and “way of life.” He felt, he said in a 1996 interview shortly before his death, that Gypsies had a “childlike” faith, and that a full and unmitigated concept of the biblical Christ would transcend the collective image many Gypsies held of themselves: “Not for a minute was it a question of lecturing them with morals, telling them they should not drink, lie, steal, or soothsay anymore. I knew that by receiving the message of Christ, everything would change in their lives,” he said.
By the mid-1990s, some 6,000 Gypsy pastors were working in Europe – part of an overall spread of this form of evangelicalism to a world Gypsy community that claims 2 million in 44 countries. The French town of Gien is home to a Gypsy Bible college. Marc Bordigoni, a Provence University anthropologist and author of “The Gypsies,” says Le Cossec’s approach paradoxically enabled Gypsies to keep their identity through a faith, Christianity, that asserts what he calls a universal character.
“The strength of Gypsy Protestantism lies in the fact that Le Cossec initiated, because he had to, an organization from within the community. Their faith is led by their own people.”