As an update to last week’s blog noted we realised, very shortly after praising Ventimiglia for its pizza, that the town had quietly slipped onto the front page as the focal point for a good deal of human misery. Scores of refugees from Africa, having made it across the perils of the Mediterranean, had crossed the length of Italy. Having been refused entry at the French border they were stuck at Ventimiglia. The stormy weather gave rise to some pathetic imagery of rainswept men (and a few women) huddled together on the rocks with no shelter other than insulating blankets. Waiting to collect someone for Courmettes at Cannes railway station last Sunday we saw that at least twenty of them of them had in fact managed to cross the border only to be arrested on French territory. They were sitting in a rather resigned manner on the platform surrounded by nearly a dozen French police who were keeping an eye on them in no-nonsense but not particularly hostile way. Eventually a coach turned up and surrounded by even more police they were taken away, presumably to be driven back across the border. No doubt to try again another day.
It is a devastating criticism of the state of the world that these people have had to leave their own countries in the first place and that Europe with all its comparative prosperity and stability hasn’t a clue what to do with them when they arrive. Answers please.
The promised topic of this week was Chris’s visit to the A Rocha Forum in Portugal. A word of background first. A Rocha is an extraordinary diverse and dispersed organisation with nothing like a central office. For example, A Rocha International – the branch that Chris works with – has perhaps a dozen people in ten locations all linked together by Skype and email. Most of the time that system works well economically but there are occasions when you really do need to get together physically. So that’s the purpose of forum, which occurs every couple of years or so. (And in case you’re wondering, yes the carbon emissions of plane travel are offset, through Climate Stewards).
This year forum was just north of Lisbon and there were ninety people there. Over the years Chris has come to know a good many people in A Rocha: we find it rather scary that it was twenty years ago that we invited A Rocha’s founders Peter and Miranda Harris to visit Lebanon. So there were not just lots of old friends but many new faces and new lots of information to pick up and to think about. There’s a lot going on in environmentalism these days and A Rocha now works around twenty countries. So there were lunchtime conversations on ways of monitoring owl populations, on plastic pollution in the sea and on whether or not we could get anything going in Madagascar. And there were Bible studies and some interesting and challenging talks by Ruth Padilla.
A particular pleasure was having the music led by Sandra McCraken, a fine singer, guitarist and songwriter and A Rocha supporter from Nashville. She is writes very thoughtful Christian songs and there is a very interesting interview with her on the Gospel Coalition website from where you can even download her eminently singable song “We will feast”. And apart from the fact that Chris didn’t get back to Taradeau until 3 o’clock on the Saturday morning – thanks Portuguese airlines – it was a great trip.