“The founder of scouting, Baden-Powell, said that we should try to leave the world a little better than it was when we came into it. This is what I try to do by helping migrants. When someone feels helpless, it is my Christian mission to transmit hope. What little I can do, I must do, even if it’s just offering coffee.
In my career, I have worked a lot in the sector of Church associations, first with the Scouts and Guides of France, then at the Catholic Delegation for Cooperation. It is important for me to work for the common good of Man and all human beings.
For three years, I have been running the Bakhita house. This association is the response of the Diocese of Paris to Pope Francis’ call to “welcome, protect, promote and integrate” migrants. In this large reception center in the 18th arrondissement of Paris, we organize several activities for exiled people, in order to help them integrate into France, give them hope and self-confidence.
I do this particularly as a child of migrants. The journey of migrants echoes that of my father, a Portuguese exile. He fled the dictatorship in the 1960s and crossed the border in a truck. What he was able to receive when he arrived at the time allowed him to integrate well in France. Sixty years later, I want to pass on the same keys to the exiles.
More than 1,000 people have been supported in the house since its opening. Most are directed towards us by actors in ecclesial or non-denominational networks. We have a slight majority of women, and most of the people we welcome are between 20 and 40 years old. People from West Africa are the most represented community, Afghans the first nationality.
The bulk of our program is French lessons. The needs are enormous. Exiles can also train in cooking, sewing, DIY, meet a psychologist, etc. If we cannot meet a person’s needs – for example we do not provide accommodation, we direct them towards a specialized structure.
As we are a Christian house, there is a small oratory and volunteers can participate in times of prayer and masses. Two sisters are also on mission in the house. They have a management role, but also care and listening to migrant people. By working within the Church, I can combine my faith and my profession by carrying people in my prayers. Accompanying exiled people requires a lot of hope and resilience, and in this Saint Josephine Bakhita is a true model.
On September 23, we organized our first festival, an open party where we invited exiles, 18th century inhabitants, and all the curious. It will be a good opportunity to talk about the life of migrants, and to anchor ourselves more strongly in the life of the neighborhood. »