“These are harmless people who need to voice their unhappiness. They see no future in their professional life. They are unemployed, they have little to live on, with monthly wages of 600 Euros. Elderly people, close to retirement age, who have not earned the right to retire.” These are all aspects present in this “world” that suffers and that voices its cry in the framework of the “phenomenon” of the Yellow Vestsin the words of Msgr. Bernard Ginoux, bishop of Montauban, a town near Toulouse. The bishop is renowned in France for having marched with the Yellow Vestsin his Region. He met them in the streets to speak with them and understand their motivations. “They are poor, but not poor enough to access government subsidies”, he said. “They feel invisible, forgotten by a government that perhaps is more interested in financial and economic problems, which adopts proposals and programmes that leave no room for the poor.” On the wake of the demonstration in Paris and after the umpteenth clashes on May Day, SIR contacted the bishop by phone for a firsthand understanding of this phenomenon that is now in the 23rd week of street protests that unfortunately included clashes.
Your Excellency, what are your impressions after your experience with the Yellow Vests?
I supported this movement. I went to meet them. I spoke with them. I listened to their expectations and their concerns and I told them that the Church is not insensitive to their problems. Unfortunately the Yellow Vests have been infiltrated by violent groups that are not part of the movement and take advantage of every demonstration to spark off acts of violence. The French government is unable to control this phenomenon and allowed the situation to degenerate. Thus there remains widespread discontent perceived by a large part of the population. The Yellow Vests express their malaise that is primarily due to lack of employment and of future prospects.
Could you help us understand with a few examples?
For example: a mother with two dependent children has no other option than to work as a supermarket checkout assistant, even on Sundays, with a monthly salary of a thousand Euros.
This sum is not enough to raise and take care of a family.
She is thus living a precarious situation in which she is constantly worried about the future.
What’s the solution?
First of all work should be guaranteed to everyone. This is what the Church affirms in her social doctrine: everyone must have an honest, properly remunerated job. Aids should be granted to mothers, especially those mothers who raise their children alone, who strive to make ends meet and face major hardships. They should be able to access government benefits. Many senior citizens reaching retirement age cannot afford the high costs of care homes. Some old-age homes in France charge no less than 2,500 Euros per month per person. Many 65-year-olds receive a monthly pension of 700/800 Euros a month and are rightly worried about their future.
But work is a priority. Germany succeeded. Why should France fail to carry out serious labour policies?
It’s a difficult, burdensome situation. Political leaders must address these difficulties. Yet unfortunately employment is not a topical subject in France today. And it’s a major problem.
What motivated your decision to take to the streets to meet the yellow vests?
Concern for others, especially for those who suffer. The Pope calls on us to go to the peripheries. They are our peripheries. They live in our cities. Jesus walked among the people. I remember that last December 7th I was writing a text for publication. In the evening, at the end of the day, I told myself I could not write about the Yellow Vests without having met them first. The next day, December 8th, feast of the Immaculate Conception, after having celebrated midday Mass, I knew that I had to go. And I went. The Yellow Vests were surprised when they first saw me. After then they always welcomed me. They also asked me to bless a cardboard manger they had made.