Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The hour when the ship comes in


Two news stories have caught my eye today. The first is that a load of people are going mental and are “scavenging” for goods which have washed up ashore a beach in Devon, southern England. The MSC Napoli, which is shipwrecked, has dropped around 200 of its 2,000 containers into the sea. According to the BBC, hundreds are walking up and down the beach taking goods including BMW motorbikes, nappies, engine parts, wine, and airbag parts.

I like the way it has been described as "salvaging" and “scavenging”. It is more than this, it is "greed", pure and simple. It’s like when there are riots and people take the opportunity of smashing in shop windows to steal TVs and Hi-Fis. “Theft” would be a better word to describe what’s going on. Only a few days after Big Brother showed that we are a nation of racist bullies, we are now proving that we’re opportunistic thieves as well.

The other story that caught my eye comes right from the opposite moral spectrum. Abbé Pierre died yesterday aged 94. Most of you won’t know who he was, unless you’re French of course. Think of him as the French equivalent of Mother Theresa. He was a hero of the resistance helping Charles de Gaulle’s brother to escape the Germans and countless Jews escape to Switzerland. He himself escaped Gestapo torture during the war.

But he is famous for more than that. In 1954 he stormed into Radio Luxembourg’s studios and stole the microphone from a bemused presenter. He then issued a plea on behalf of the homeless after a three month old infant died on a bus and a mother died on a Parisian boulevard clutching an eviction notice in her hands. Millions of francs poured in and hundreds of second hand goods (such as furniture) and food were donated. His appeal caught the mood of the country and brought to the forefront the scandal that was homelessness in post-war France. The outcry lead to the French government announcing plans to build 12,000 basic homes for the most poor.

He was immensely popular, winning year after year the title of France’s most popular man. He only stopped winning it when he declared himself out of the race. In many respects he represented the best of the Catholic Church and campaigned against the Church’s stance on homosexuality, contraception and priesthood chastity. He even told Jean Marie Le Pen, the leader of far right party the Front National, to “shut up”. In public. Twice. “To be racist is to invest in the wrong kind of anger”, he would later write.

He set up the Emmaus movement which became an international charity. It helped thousands of homeless and poor people across Europe. The first Emmaus house was his own home. He opened up his door to the homeless and let them build make-shift shelters in his garden and sleep in his Parish home’s spare rooms. He was champion of the cause of homelessness and used his fame to highlight the issue for over fifty years.

He believed that the rich should do more for the poor than tokenism, but that the poor needed to help themselves out of poverty. “To fight for my own bread may be materialism. To fight for bread for others is the beginning of spirituality,” he wrote.

I wonder what he would have said at the sight of over 200 British people “salvaging” whatever treasure has washed up on the beach in Devon? It’s quite obviously materialism at its worst and most disgusting.



When the Ship Comes In

2 comments:

Will said...

Agree with you about the scavengers. They're thieves.

PV said...

nice post jimmy



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