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Catholic Church criticises French Roma deportation policy

media French priest Father Arthur Hervet with a Roma family in Villeneuve d'Ascq … Reuters

The French interior minister said Monday that he would meet the senior Catholic cardinal in France, after the Vatican criticised France’s crackdown on its Roma communities. On Sunday, the Pope and two prominent French priests joined the international criticism of France’s deportation of some 216 Roma people to Romania and Bulgaria this week.

Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux over the weekend defended himself against international criticism of the deportations. Monday he said he was willing to meet with the Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, to discuss the issue.

Father Arthur Hervet, a priest in the northern city of Lille, said on Sunday that the Roma community “has been subjected to war” for three years. He told reporters after mass that he was praying for President Nicolas Sarkozy to have a heart attack, though he later said he regretted making such a strong remark.

Lille’s Bishop Laurent Ulrich distanced himself from the priest’s words, but he said that the situation of the Roma in France “arouses the conscience of many Christians”.

The Archbishop of Aix-en-Provence and Arles, in southern France, Christophe Dufour, also criticised the government on Sunday, after witnessing the dismantling of a camp.

"These people, European citizens, live for the most part peacefully here, a certain number of them for many years,” he said, adding that any speech that “suggests that there are inferior people is unacceptable”.

Pope Benedict XVI, after his weekly Angelus prayer on Sunday, spoke to a group of pilgrims from Paris. Without referencing the Roma deportations directly, he invited them to educate children in tolerance and to welcome people of all origins.

The Vatican directly criticised France’s crackdown on Friday.

"One cannot generalise and take an entire group of people and kick them out," said Agostino Marchetto, secretary of the Vatican's Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People commission.

The French foreign ministry insists that the deportations are in line with European rules, and that those who have left so far did so voluntarily, after receiving cash.

French immigration minister Eric Besson said on Monday that France is being judged too harshly. He said on French radio that France is doing better than other countries in terms of integrating foreigners, and that it accepts the most asylum seekers in the world, after the US.

“So with respect to this universal fraternity, I think that France is not doing pretty well,” he said.

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