20 Paris, 18th arrondissement, Saint Bernard de la Chapelle

 Some churches have a bigger role in history than others. This one has been involved for quite some time with support for undocumented migrants and other groups in need of support. It hit the headlines in 1996, when a group of undocumented migrants demanding papers occupied the church and went on hunger strike. The Conservative government of the time found this very embarassing, and riot police were sent in. In a monumental public relations disaster, the police broke down the door of the church with an axe (and the photo went right round the world). They arrested the migrants and trundled them off to the detention centre in the Vincennes forest. The same day (I think) an impressive large demonstration protested, marching from the Church to the Place de la Nation. Half of the demonstration went on from Nation into the Vincennes woods to the detention centre, quite a few miles away. These events were the beginning of an important movement of undocumented migrants, which succeeded in winning papers for many thousands of migrants (though never winning "papers for all" which was our slogan). The church has a special place in my heart because it was on that demonstration that I met my future wife!

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Churches are also living social places where people do things which are imprtant to them, so I often like to photograph the signs of activity, whether or not the particular activity is my cup of tea. 

Non-French readers may not know that all churches built before 1905 in France are the property of (usually local) government. Public authorities organize maintenance and repair, and lease the buildings free or very cheap to the parishes. This was part of the huge 1905 compromise.


















This is a poster encouraging victims of sexual abuse in a church context to contact the Independent commission on sexual abuse.









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