French Evangelical leaders appealed for radical justice, as President Jacques Chirac declared a state of emergency Tuesday in the midst of the worst civil unrest in France over the last decades.
The first violence erupted Oct. 27 in a northeast Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois as two teenagers fleeing from police were accidentally electrocuted at a power substation and died. The incident triggered the anger of the large African and Arab communities in the area. The following twelve nights have then seen riots widespread to the neighboring suburb Aulnay-sous-Bois and other major cities outside of Paris, including Dijon, Marseille, Nice and Strasbourg, according to the BBC.
From last Sunday to Monday French officials’ record for car destructions as having exceeded 1,400, according to the latest report by the Associated Press. Meanwhile, among hundreds of suspects arrested, 52 adults and 23 minors have been sentenced to prison or detention centers, the French Justice Ministry.
The reason behind the riots is not fully understood. Since most of those involved in the violence were French youths born of Arab and black African immigrant parents, Christian leaders and politicians see the recent events an outburst of accumulated anger within the impoverished minority neighborhoods over racial discrimination and unemployment.
According to Catholic News Service (CNS), Archbishop Jean-Pierre Ricard of Bourdeaux, president of the French Bishops' Conference, noted in a statement released on Nov. 5 that "recent urbanization, employment difficulties facing the young (and) instability in the family are often cited" as factors for the unrest in France.
Although the rioting neighborhoods populated largely by Muslim immigrants, the French bishops advised strongly against viewing the conflict in religious terms, CNS reported.
Moreover, in a statement written in French on Nov. 7 by the Mission Populaire Evangelique de France (The People’s Evangelical Mission of France), the organization acknowledged that "violence rules" over the troubled minority suburbs and cities because "work, decent housing, education and the mere humane respect echo like empty words there."
In a special National Assembly session Tuesday addressing the unrest, French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin echoed a similar statement and said "The struggle against all discriminations must become a priority for our national community."
"They are a reality today for all the inhabitants of troubled neighborhoods when they look for housing, a job or even when they want access to leisure activities," he said, according to AP.
Villepin told reporters that jobseekers with foreign-sounding names were not always given equal consideration with applicants with traditional French-sounding names when they presented their resumes. The Catholic Church of France also said that unemployment in some ethnic and religious minorities regions ran as high as 30 percent.
Due to discrimination, many black African youths are demotivated to succeed and have "the feeling of not belonging to the national community," Villepin pointed out.
Amid the crisis that has "provoked fear in souls," French Catholic bishops called for calm and peace. In the statement, they especially highlighted "all the work being done daily by associations and institutions to create bonds of solidarity for a fraternal common existence," according to CNS.
The Mission Populaire Evangelique de France commented that "dialogue, listening and action are possible."
"The urban crisis that we are entering is obviously a spiritual crisis,” it declared. “The true answer is spiritual. For it is time for our country to expand its tent and for foreign fellow citizens to be called by their name [as French].”
In face of recent unrest, Eglise Reformee de France (The French Reformed Church) in the Paris region has reaffirmed its conviction of Christian faith and encourages Christians to become "witnesses of peace" in order to curb "hatred and violence," according a statement written in French on its website.
"The good news of the Gospel is a message of hope and life that is offered unconditionally to each man and to each woman by God,” stated Pastor Jean-Charles Tenreiro, President of the Parisian regional council of the Church. “This promise incarnated in Jesus Christ invites us to overcome violence by a mutual recognition beyond our identities, cultures and beliefs.
“Our Christian and civil responsibility is to go pass these intolerances and generalizations, to work on a ground of dialogue and respect in order to build a society where each one can find his place."