Around 30,000 Roma evangelicals met in a “marquee cathedral” for annual gathering
The massive gathering of the Vie et Lumière churches in France has traditionally faced the opposition of local authorities. But no incidents were recorded, says the police.
Agencies · PARIS · 14 SEPTEMBER 2023 · 15:38 CET
Over 5,000 caravans and a meeting place in “the largest marquee in Europe”.
These are two of the characteristics that easily identified the large gathering of Roma evangelical Christians in France (who describe themselves as voyageurs, travellers) between 3 and 10 September in a former NATO airfield near the border with Germany.
Grostenquin, a village of only 600 inhabitants near Metz, saw the arrival of between 25,000 and 35,000 people, in thousands of motor homes to attend the annual Vie et Lumière festival.
“This is a moment that we have been waiting for a few months”, pastor Gérard Lacroix told news agency AFP, “today, we are really happy to be here”. A special highlight this year was using for the first time the “canvas cathedral”, a new yellow and blue marquee to “come together to sing our faith and listen to the Word of God”, he said. These days, many were also baptised by immersion as a public expression of their commitment to follow Jesus Christ.
A large evangelical presence since the 50s
The movement, officially named Evangelical Mission of the Gypsies of France, has a large presence in France, training hundreds of pastors. Founded by Clement Le Cossec in the early 1950s, Vie et Lumière now sends missionaries to Hungary, Russia and countries in Central Asia.
Holding to an evangelical Pentecostal credo, the union of over 300 churches is the largest evangelical group in the country, says the French Protestant Federation (FPF), of which it is a member organisation.
Mayors in the region protested in 2015 and 2017 when Vie et Lumière organised this annual gathering in the region, and even obtained a letter from the then Prime Minister Édouard Philippe reassuring them that it would no longer happen in the Grostenquin aerodrome, reports AFP.
This year, the mayor of the municipality, said: “I invite all mayors to lodge complaints whenever there is something. And the state will be responsible for everything that will happen”, according to magazine La Vie. In May, local authorities in Nevoy (south of Orleans) had protested due to the overpopulation and waste left in a congress of the same evangelical movement.
To overview the arrival of so many participants, the police said in a press conference at the beginning of September that it had organised a special team of over 350 police officers to guarantee “security and health” during the weeklong event.
#Grostenquin | Laurent Touvet, @prefet57, a présenté à la presse le dispositif mis en place par les services de l’État en #Moselle dans le cadre du grand rassemblement organisé par la mission évangélique tzigane « Vie et Lumière ».
d’infos https://t.co/VSLPXhIs1o pic.twitter.com/rWqJMsirV7
— Préfet de la Moselle (@Prefet57) August 25, 2023
Once the 2023 gathering was over, hundreds were involved in bringing back normality. Pastor Joseph Charpentier, one of the organisers, told France Bleu: “We clean up (…) We put everything in place so that our passage does not leave bad memories to all the inhabitants of the villages surrounding the base”. A neighbour in the village confirmed that young people worked on keeping the site clean every day during the festival.
Two days after the official end of the festival, there were around one hundred caravans that had not yet left the site. But the police confirmed that “no significant events occurred” during the gathering.
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