The Church and the Creole Community
By TP Saran
After his interrogation by the Central Criminal Investigation Department on Monday last, Darlmah Naeck, the sacked editor of Defi Quotidien is reported by that paper as saying that the aim of his article was to ‘provoquer un débat pour aider une partie de la communauté creole qui vit dans la pauvreté.’ He alluded to the Catholic Church’s inattention to the situation of its ‘ouailles’, not giving due recognition to their specific identity and trying to impose instead the values of a supposedly superior European culture; besides, he opined that the Creoles did not do enough for themselves in matters of education.
Was he flagging a non-issue? If we go by the reactions of some Creole priests that have been published, then it would seem that the one reproach that can be made to Darlmah Naeck is that he has not done his homework and checked the facts. Indeed, the Creole priests spring to the defence of the Catholic Church to which most Creoles belong, giving examples of how they themselves with its blessings have created several entities throughout the island to guide and help lift the Creoles, and devised special programmes of self-empowerment for the community.
Which is exactly what Darlmah Naeck ‘reproached’ them for not doing. So his information was incomplete, and the Creole community, contrary to Darlmah Naeck’s perception, is making progress and consolidating its sense of identity. There is nothing new under the sun, and the remarks of Darlmah Naeck were made by Creoles themselves way back in 1993 – by no less than Pere Roger Cerveaux who evoked the problem of ‘malaise Creole’ in the Church to which he belonged.
If Darlmah Naeck had but searched the internet before writing his article, he could have let Creole leaders speak instead, because they had said all this before.
Alain Romaine, Creole priest, was asked by Alain Gordon Gentil, some years ago, : ‘En 1994, naissait au sein de l’église catholique, à travers le père Roger Cerveaux, ce que l’on a appelé le “malaise créole”. Douze ans plus tard, les voix se sont calmées, où en est ce mouvement voulant faire entendre la voix des Créoles dans l’église? Le malaise a-t-il disparu ou s’est-il amplifié?’
A. Romaine’s reply was: ‘Pour avoir été moi-même un des témoins privilégiés, aux côtés de Roger Cerveaux, je peux dire que ce que Roger a déclenché, c’était le déclic. Tout le malaise était là. C’est un ensemble d’événements qui a fait que la question identitaire – c’est de cela qu’il s’agissait – a fait surface. Le Créole n’était pas reconnu au sein de l’Eglise.’
And to the follow-up question: ‘Ce cap est passé ? Les Créoles sont aujourd’hui reconnus au sein de l’église?’ the confident reply is ‘Oui’. This should comfort Darlmah Naeck, as his concern has been obviously addressed since; only, he was not aware of the fact.
As for Eliezer Francois, leader of MAM, he said: ‘Je me permets de féliciter le père Henri Souchon pour son courage de dire publiquement ‘L’Eglise doit s’occuper des plus pauvres de la société, les plus pauvres sont les ti-créoles.’ C’est justement ce que MAM réclame à l’Eglise. Tout en disant BRAVO à Père Souchon MAM insiste pour que les enfants créoles étudient surtout l’anglais, le français et les mathématiques…’
And: ‘Lors d’un meeting public tenu à Cité Barkly, le 27 décembre 1994, après une absence de dix ans passée en Australie, je (Eliezer Francois) déclarai ceci:
“L’Eglise nous a toujours appris à faire notre Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa. Eh bien! aujourd’hui, je demande à l’église de faire son Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa, (C’est ma faute, C’est ma faute, C’est ma très grande faute) pour n’avoir pas aidé les enfants défavorisés de Barkly, Chebel, Mont Roches, Stanley, Camp Levieux et St Patrick. Car, si seulement l’église avait réservé 10 places, annuellement, dans chacun de ses collèges; La Confiance, Le BPS, St. Marys et Les Lorettes de Rose-Hill pour ces enfants défavorisés, cela aurait fait LA DIFFÉRENCE.” ’
A round of these schools and colleges will show to Darlmah Naeck that his fears are no longer founded, for in these and similar institutions now Creoles are to be found in plenty.
And about self-empowerment, this is what Alain Romaine had to say: ‘Ce n’est pas aux autres de faire de la place pour les créoles, c’est à lui de se faire sa place avec l’immense potentiel qu’il a.’
To sum up, therefore, the recognition of Creole identity is now a fait accompli in the Catholic Church and the country at large, the Creole priests and civil society have taken many pro-active measures which are ongoing to improve the quality of life of Creoles and are running self-empowerment programmes amongst others, the Creoles are making full use of the educational opportunities offered to them by the Catholic institutions and public schools/colleges. With all this support and encadrement the Creoles are making significant progress and are contributing fully to the construction of the Mauritian nation in various spheres of the country’s activities. All that Darlmah Naeck has to do is to take a look at the wide-ranging representatives who have raised their voices to confirm that the Creoles have moved far from what he thinks their situation is.
Indeed, this is confirmed by what was visible on Wednesday throughout the island on the occasion of the festival of Assomption. Chic Creoles of all social classes and ages were found to be celebrating the festival, more so as it was a sunny day. There was not a trace of the vehemence of the social media reaction to Darlmah Naeck’s article, which seemed to concern only a handful rather than the multitude of happy Church-going Creoles. The day continued with festivities mostly at home among family and friends.
Of course, there are poor families among Creoles, but they are also present among other communities too, according to the survey that has shown that there are 7000 such families. There are government institutions that are assuming their responsibilities in the matter, and the Creoles have the added advantage of having the solid backing of the Catholic Church. This is an example to follow by the equivalent authorities in other communities, in which they are lagging behind the Creoles. Perhaps the next article of Darlmah Naeck should focus on what lessons in solidarity the Creoles and the Catholic Church can give to other Mauritians.
* Published in print edition on 17 August 2012