Catholic Sisters Tackle Environmentalists Meddling With Church Construction In France

The Missionary Family of Notre Dame des Neiges has been obstructed by local government and environmentalists for several years.

Famille Missionaire de Notre Dame

An intervention by environmentalists in France took a sudden turn when a nun tackled a man who was among activists who oppose the building of a large Catholic chapel in Saint-Pierre-de-Colombier, in Ardèche, a province in southeastern France.

On October 14, activists opposed to the Catholics were seen vandalizing building materials at the site, while Catholic nuns formed a human chain to protect the work of building a 3,500 seat chapel. Les Amis de la Bourges is a group of environmentalists who have opposed the religious center since the project started in 2018. The group claims that the center endangers protected species of plants. Video shared by the Catholic group showed the environmentalists tearing down a barrier around the construction and charging at the members of the religious community.

In a statement on its website, the Missionary Family declared, “On Monday, October 16 and Tuesday, October 17, opponents of the project once again illegally and violently entered the construction site of the Notre Dame des Neiges site. The brothers and sisters as well as a few friends were present to defend the site and the machines.”

It continued: “Although they wanted to be peaceful, the images clearly show the violence with which they proceeded. They started by destroying the barriers which demarcated the construction site. Then they forced their way, violently attacking several brothers and sisters.”

The nuns barred the demonstrators from the building site, having arrived in the pre-dawn darkness as guards. As of 8 o’clock on that morning, the nuns and demonstrators clashed for nearly an hour. “I didn’t expect that ,” said Sylvain Hérenguel, a leader of the environmentalists. “I expected the nuns to be a little reasonable as to public order. The problem is that the religious people decided to resort to violence. I was attacked three times by five people, who grabbed me and tried to throw me out. They sought to protect the site with their actions and their bodies ,” he added.

After calm appeared to prevail, the nuns surrounded a backhoe loader, chanting prayers in unison to protect the vehicle and workers. About 10 police officers were on hand. The nuns continued to sing despite the jeering activists.

Local media reported that the eco-activists are concerned over the possible destruction of a habitat for Jacquin’s mignonette – a protected flower species. Herenguel said,  “We want to protect farm land that  could be used by future generations. We need to put things back on track and enforce environmental law.” His group filed a complaint on October 11. Some members of the community also object to the number of pilgrims who may be attracted to the religious center, which is the headquarters of the Missionary Family of Our Lady of the Snows (Notre Dame des Nieges).

A meeting with the local prefect for the disputing parties is scheduled for October 19. Construction is at a standstill until then, but its opponents vow to intervene again. The local government stopped construction in October 2020, following strong opposition from some local residents. Permission was granted this year to begin the project anew. However,  environmentalist Herenguel has not lost hope of seeing his protest pay off.

See video of the environmentalists' attack here.

Topic tags:
Catholic Church France anti-Catholicism secularism laicite