French Augustinians serve river community

Posted by 
Friday 14, January 2011 | Category:   Clergy

Since 1988 the Augustinians of the Assumption have been working with the riverboat community on the River Seine in the northeast Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte Honorine. One of the things making their ministry different from other parishes, however, is its location. Like the people it serves, it is on a barge, or rather a group of barges.

Chapel
THE COMMUNITY chapel on Le Je Sers
Established by Father Arthur Hervet and now staffed by four other Assumptionists, the barge-chapel, named Le Je Sers (“I serve”), is one of two “river parishes” in France. The parish does everything a landlubbing parish does, like celebrating the sacraments and conducting catechism classes for the children of residents of the barge community and children in the immediate surroundings. The chapel is open 24/7, and all are invited to share the community's times of prayer.

The community’s ministry also functions as a place for emergency shelter. It welcomes former prisoners and streetwalkers and currently offers temporary housing to about 40 persons looking to get back on their feet. The office at the rear of the barge community, called La Pierre Blanche (“White Rock”), takes in a dozen or so people every day who are living at life's edge. Volunteers help those temporarily housed in the community with navigating government bureaucracy, searching for work or permanent housing, or learning French. The barges also house the headquarters for six social agencies.

Every morning after breakfast two teams leave to pick up food donations from various agencies and stores for the community’s cooks to prepare. Other residents or volunteers are responsible for the upkeep and repair of the barges.

Though the riverboat population is smaller than it was at the beginning of the 20th century, there is still plenty to do on Je Sers. The community has 6 employees, 20 regular volunteers, and over 100 other volunteers. Its nine barges—six owned by the community and three on loan from the Voies Navigables de France (Navigable Waterways of France)—include houses and apartments and have 50 residents. The community owns vans and cars and also uses vehicles on loan.

Plan
PLAN of the four main barges making up
the community's living quarters
In addition to the 100 meals served onboard daily, the parish distributes 100 food baskets to the needy every day and makes gifts to various groups in need, such as the Roma people (Gypsies), immigrants, and other soup kitchens or food pantries. Each week it gathers, recycles, and distributes one ton of clothes. About half its budget of €800,000 ($1,000,000) comes from gifts and the other half from subsidized rents.


Reprinted with permission from PrepareTheWord.com. ©TrueQuest Communications.

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