Marianist lay woman works with Roma in Paris, France



entrance to the Roma camp; Cristian is wearing the baseball cap

Mary Harvan Gorgette is a Marianist lay woman living in Paris, France. She works as a  lay minister for social-justice and intercultural issues in a 5-parish area of the Diocese of Créteil. She coordinates a group that supports Roma families in the area.

Cristian spends most of his day on the road, in the southern suburbs of Paris, France. He rides his bike, stopping occasionally to pick up scrap metal and throw it in his makeshift trailer. Sometimes he loads up a larger appliance left curbside on trash day.

His trailer full, he pedals back to a small shantytown, located off an access road. In September 2010, five Romanian families built small homes around a central courtyard, using materials collected from trash bins. Cristian and Janina’s home has two rooms, a double bed for them and one for their three children. A concrete, wood-burning stove provides heat. A couple plastic chairs can be pulled out and covered with clean linens for visitors to the camp.

For cooking and washing, each family fills jerry cans from a roadside fire hydrant. Toilets are dug away from the camp. Janina and the other women cook on open fires in the courtyard.

A grassy field between the camp and the access road provides a workspace. There Cristian and other young men hammer the objects they have collected, separating the metal to be sold as scrap. The families survive this way because French law prohibits Romanian and Bulgarian citizens from working in any but a restricted number of fields, all requiring advanced degrees. It excludes the poorest Eastern Europeans from an otherwise open EU job market.

Many of the poorest belong to an ethnic group called Roma, long discriminated against in their home countries. There, they are excluded not only from the work force, but from schools, housing, and public services. This drives many to emigrate to the richer West. As Janina says, they live better off French trash: Romanians don’t throw much away.

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News from Peru

A few days ago, I received an email from Brother Brian Halderman, SM in San Antonio, Texas introducing me to Alfonso J. de la Torre, a graduate of Santa Maria in Lima and St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. Alfonso, along with other graduates of Santa Maria, formed a Marianist Lay community called CAPA that is doing social outreach ministry to natives in the Peruvian Amazon. The region is presently experiencing severe flooding, causing a dire situation for the local people.

Here is a description of the project by Alfonso,

CAPA Perú was founded as a Marianist Lay Community four years ago by alumni from Colegio Santa María, the oldest Marianist school in Peru. CAPA was founded upon the experience that these alumni had a couple of years earlier when, as part of a Pastoral program, they traveled to Yanashi, a small town in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon rainforest. Yanashi is the place that is now totally flooded.

CAPA has evolved through the years, not without struggle at times. We decided a few years ago to become a non-profit organization so that we could raise enough funds to make a real impact in the area. The transition was difficult, and we have committed ourselves to keep as identity the values of the Marianist charism: faith, hospitality, family spirit and adaptation to change. It was these last traits that, the openness and willingness to adapt to a changing environment, what has allowed CAPA to keep its communitarian and Marianist identity even if, on paper, it is a legal organization as well. One of the things that keep us honest to our Marianist heritage is that we have kept Fr. Eduardo Arens, S.M. as our adviser and mentor. We also try to collaborate with the other Marianists in Peru.

Our main project is the development of fish-farms in farming and native communities along the Orosa river, which flows into the Amazon river. These fish farms help people to improve their diet (they mainly grow vegetables in a very poor soil) and may one day help them to earn a living as they sell their surplus. We have also built a community well in one of the communities in order to improve their water supply.

Finally, as a personal testimony, I have to tell you that being part of CAPA has been a rewarding experience. I had the opportunity to grow up in a Marianist school and then attend St. Mary´s University, also a Marianist institution. Now that I am back in my country, I am happy to say that I remain involve with the Marianists and committed to what they taught me: to be Christ to others when they are in need. That Marianists have become an integral part of my life and my work in CAPA is a testimony to that.

You can get pictures of our work at . It is in Spanish, but the tab “Galería” (gallery) has a bunch of pictures for you to download. If you need more, please let me know.

Isabel Duarte Quapper, our CLM Responsible for Latin America, also contacted Miguel Agüero, our National Responsible for CLM Perú. This is Miguel’s response,

Buenas tardes Isabel, le agradecemos la preocupación por nuestros hermanos que estan sufriendo la indolencia de la naturaleza, es verdadque la Sierra de nuestro país y las quebradas (Chosica) lugar a una hora de Lima estan pasando momentos dificiles, perder casa y a veces familiares por un Huayco (una ola de barro y piedra) debe ser penoso y a la vez preocupante, esta reflexión se ha realizado en las comunidades y a la vez nos cuestiona la realidad y que tan rapido podemos actuar llevando la Buena Nueva en medio del sufrimiento; para esto dos CLM joven estan haciendo una colecta de ropa y viveres para donarle a nuestros amigos de la Sierra y de Chosica, esto esta en proceso y se hará llegara nuestros lugares de misión marianistas en las cuales se tiene continuidad y no sólo es un asistencialismo que lo puede hacer cualquiera, es un trabajo integral que nos lleva a sentirnos evangelizados por ellos LOS MÁS POBRES, el Señor nos habla desde estas realidades.

Ayer en cinco comunidades marianistas reunidadas en sus casas y la parroquia hemos dado gracias a Dios por tener hermanos solidarios y que asumen la tarea de liderarnos como movimiento (Isabel-Isabel) y darnos ejemplo de discipulado y misión, hemos orados por ustedes dos, saben que muchas de nuestros comunicación son conocidos por muchos en las comunidades, estamos conectados.

Nuestra ayuda se va a dar hasta junio y tenemos ayuda de gente, instituciones marianistas y si se puede de ustedes es con ropa de abrigo en especial de niños y mujeres (son los más animados en los pueblos de la Sierra en la misión), algunas medicinas, alimentos no perecibles, estas son de las cosas que más hacemos llegar en los pueblos y ellos siempren saben que son los marianistas que estan en medio de todo esto.

Being an international family means that we feel the struggles and pains of our sisters and brothers around the world. It also means that we can help each other make connections, so news can be shared, support given, and prayers united across the miles.

May our loving God bless our sisters and brothers in Perú, and may Mother Mary guide the compassionate hands and hearts who work for her mission.