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Home WHAT’S NEW River Ministry: Many Actors, One Inspiration

River Ministry: Many Actors, One Inspiration PDF Print E-mail

-A parish for riverboatmen

The barge-chapel 'Je sers' ('I serve'), located on the River Seine in the northeast Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte Honorine, is one of two river parishes in France. It has been served by the Assumptionists since 1988, when Fr. Arthur Hervet was named pastor. Religious ceremonies for boatmen are celebrated here as well as all the activities of a parish: baptisms, marriages, funerals, catechism classes for the children of residents of the barge community and children in the immediate surroundings. The pastor receives his credentials from the bishop and, together with his assistant, participates in all the activities of the local area and the deanery.

The riverboatmen, less numerous now than at the beginning of the 20th century, remain extremely attached to this place of worship and its history. The barge is also the home of a religious community. The chapel is open 24/7 and all are invited to share the community's times of prayer. The live-in presence of a religious community as well as that of the barge community residents provides a unique atmosphere which, by its warmth, attracts many visitors.

-The Assumptionist community at the heart of the action

When Fr. Arthur left, it gave the Assumptionists an opportunity to re-examine and re-affirm their commitment to this work, in particular by re-inforcing the community. At present, there are four living there: Fr. Nicolas Tarralle, superior of the community and pastor, Fr. Yves Geneau, assistant pastor, Fr. Jean-François Labrière, chaplain of the group called Faith and Light (for handicapped persons),  and Fr. Jean-Pierre Heidet, assistant pastor at the parish of Verneuil- Vernouillet, and the treasurer of the community. The presence and activity of this community take its inspiration from the Assumptionist Rule of Life. Here are some extracts. "The spirit of the founder impels us to embrace the great causes of God and Man, to go wherever God is threatened in Man and Man threatened as image of God" (#4). "Our communities wish to share the joys and hopes, the sorrows and anxieties of the men and women of their time, especially of the poor and all 'those who hunger and thirst for justice' (Mt 5:6) (#14). Our missionary vocation invites us to become 'all things to all people.' This availability requires especially: an openness of mind and heart to the cultural, social, and religious values of people form various backgrounds" (#20). "Our sharing of goods must extend to...those in need and to those who work for world justice, because poverty, in its social and international dimensions, calls us to be attentive and present to the collective problems in the lives of people" (#31). The members of this religious community believe in the human and evangelical value of the common life as much for themselves as for all those laypeople who wish to share it with them. In their barge community, they invite those who have been wounded in body, mind, or spirit to find healing there. This is the simple way in which the community functions 

A simple welcome, from financial and emotional breakdown to re-insertion

The barge community also serves as a place for emergency shelter. It was Fr. Arthur who expanded the ministry of the community by welcoming ex-prisoners and street-walkers. Currently the community offers temporary housing to about 40 persons, for people who need to regain confidence in themselves, who are looking to regularize their status, or who have been looking for housing unsuccessfully. The office of La Pierre blanche (the White Rock), situated at the back of the barge community, witnesses the arrival of a dozen or so people every day who are living at life's edge. Every morning after breakfast, two teams leave to pick up food donations from various agencies and stores for our cook to prepare. Other residents or volunteers are responsible for the upkeep and repair of the barges. Volunteers come to help those temporarily housed in the community with various administrative procedures, in their search for work or permanent housing, or in their attempt to learn French. It is simply by word of mouth that many of these people or social workers have heard of the community. The latter do not hesitate to request room for a family that their overloaded services cannot accommodate. The goal of any welcome we give, far from simply being an immediate response to a crisis, is to devise a concrete plan for each person, to get to know them, to surround them with others, and to help them get back on their feet socially by means of their experience in our common life .

The organizations that we house serve well

The barge community serves as headquarters for six social agencies. The ESB (Boatmen's Social Agency Network) is the dean of all such agencies, having been founded in 1935 with a social, educational, and religious goal. It continues to help boatmen in many administrative procedures, in a special way older boatmen. It is open four days a week and provides food and clothing. La Pierre Blanche which is in charge of welcoming newcomers is also responsible for the oversight of 70 apartments for families in need. Catholic Charities provides multiple services for those in need. Foi et lumière (Faith and Light) is an organization for the handicapped associated with l’Arche. There is also an organization for young boatmen and their families. And, finally, there is a group that regularly publishes a small newspaper for boatmen. Having so many people of so many backgrounds and nationalities living together, having so many agencies housed here, and having so many parishioners in the area coming and going and all of this in peace and order (for the most) can only be attributed to the action of the Holy Spirit.

(below: configuration of the four main barges which make up the living quarters of the community)


The Barge Community by the numbers

+ 6 employees, 20 regular volunteers and over a hundred other volunteers + 50 residents housed on the various barges in the community + 9 barges, six owned by the community and three on loan from the Voies Navigables de France (Navigable Waterways of France) + 2 houses and 1 apartment

+ 70 rented apartments

+ 4 vans and 4 cars  owned by the community and 4 on loan to the community

+ 100 meals served on board every day

+ 100 food baskets distributed to the needy every day as well as gifts made to various groups in need such as the Roma people (Gypsies), immigrants, and other soup kitchens or food pantries

+ 1 ton of clothes gathered,  recycled, and distributed per week

+ annual budget of 800,000 euros ($1,000,000), about half of which comes in the form of gifts and the other half from subsidized rents


(for more photos and the original article in French go to:

Last Updated on Friday, 24 December 2010 12:51
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