Arturo Pinacho cmf
Misión Católica de habla Española. París
It all began back in 1914, at the express wish of the then King of Spain, Don Alfonso XIII, and Queen Victoria Eugenia. The initial idea was to provide spiritual help to the Spanish emigrants in Paris, who were totally abandoned to themselves. The work was entrusted to the Claretian Missionaries, as the Spanish Catholic Mission, although from the beginning, it was also open to the service of Latin American emigrants.
The service provided was of a spiritual nature, above all, but not only: it came to have a dormitory with more than 60 beds, a bar-restaurant, a cinema, a youth sports association, a medical dispensary: in fact, popularly, the Mission received the affectionate nickname of “Plaza de España”.
The golden years of Spanish emigration in France were the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s of the 20th century. From then on, the presence of Spanish emigrants in Paris declined inexorably, but was replaced by emigrants from Latin American countries. Likewise, the destination of the Mission’s spaces was modified, with the opening of a Spanish College, dependent not on the Missionaries but on the Spanish State.
At present, the Mission is directed to the Spanish emigrants living in Paris and, above all, to the Latin American communities, numerically much more consistent and, in addition, much more in need of a spiritual and social service.
The first form of contact is the permanences: every afternoon, during the week, a Claretian dedicates a couple of hours, the parish office, to welcome all those who come. And they come to confess, to ask for a document or certificate, simply to talk or to ask for guidance in their lives, sometimes also to ask for financial help.
The strictly religious service is concentrated in three areas: the celebration of the sacraments, catechesis, and formative and spiritual accompaniment.
The Eucharistic celebrations in Spanish are held on Saturday afternoons and Sundays: the pandemic has greatly affected the presence of the faithful in our Eucharistic celebrations: they live too far away from the Mission and traveling here is an excessive effort.
The main catechetical activities are First Communion, Post-Communion, Confirmation and Adult Catechumenate. For this we have a group of catechists, both Latin American and Spanish, who complete the work of the Missionaries.
Spiritual accompaniment is provided by an adult formation group, a couples group and a youth prayer group.
For some years now we have had the presence in the parish of the Confraternity of the Lord of Miracles, which is deeply rooted in Peru. The members of the Confraternity, all of them Peruvian emigrants, in addition to their religious activities, show a strong social sense.
Apart from the activities of strictly religious character, the work of the Claretians with the emigrants has a strong social coloration. These social activities are probably the most appreciated by the emigrants, especially by the Latin Americans, who are often in need of everything: house, work, clothes, instruments of insertion in the French world, etc. Many of these services are carried out with the precious collaboration of lay volunteers.
The first is the Social Service: one or two days a week, a social worker receives those who are looking for work (and those who offer it), helps, if possible, to solve housing problems, gives advice on social questions. Unfortunately, the supply is infinitely smaller than the demand. Complementary to this Social Service is a Cloakroom service, which is nourished by the donations of clothes that our faithful make to us, especially, and this is to be thanked, the French-speaking faithful.
We also offer free psychological assistance and legal advice. Two psychologists receive those who wish it, with a demand, above all, on the part of Latin Americans. A legal advice service has also been offered, which has aroused great interest among our emigrants: it was a first legal orientation in questions of emigration law, labor law, and other possible questions related to the world of the emigrant.
A group of Alcoholics Anonymous in Spanish operates in the Parish; those who participate in their meetings affirm that they are essential when it comes to getting out of alcoholism.
Years ago they requested, from a prison on the outskirts of Paris, the presence of a chaplain to attend to the many Spanish-speaking prisoners. A lay collaborator of the Mission is responding to this need on behalf of the Parish.
The Mission was also asked for a person who could accompany the members of a French association called “Aux captifs, la libération”, which, among other activities, takes care of the numerous transsexuals working in the nearby Bois de Boulogne, many of whom are Spanish-speaking. For about a year now, the parish priest has been responding to this need.
But surely the service that arouses most interest is that of learning the French language: a considerable number of volunteer teachers teach the first notions of the language, orienting the teaching, particularly, to daily life: the aim is to allow the immigrants, especially the newcomers, to acquire a sufficient knowledge of French, which will allow them to defend themselves in their daily life, in their work activities, in their bureaucratic needs, etc. In normal times we gather more than a hundred students. Government health regulations have forced us to temporarily suspend French classes, although some teachers have continued to teach them online.
Our work reaches a large number of people, but we would still like to have a greater impact. The great geographical dispersion of the migrants makes this difficult (the Latinos generally live in the outskirts of Paris), and the current health situation has further complicated the situation. But we trust that God will continue to give us the necessary strength to continue to respond, in the most appropriate way, to our mission.
Arturo Pinacho cmf
Misión Católica de habla Española. París