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Review: Reynolds Michel Autobiography


Reynolds Michel's autobiography "Au Coeur des Conflits: Itineraire d'un chretien engage" was launched at the Port Louis Municipality on Tuesday and at La Cygne Bookstore in Rosehill yesterday, 18 July 07.

It is a rivetting account, in mock naive style, of 20 years of conflict between him, as Priest, and the religious hierarchies of the Catholic Church in Mauritius, Reunion and France. After an evocative description of the "lakur" that poor people lived in 60 years ago in Port Louis around a shared shady space, the young Reynolds Michel, obviously inexperienced in every aspect of life, found out when he was already in France for his studies to become a Priest that he had somehow been denied (by racism in the Port Louis diocese?) a home-base from which to become Priest. He then, from France, turned to Reunion to "adopt" him, failing which he could not go ahead with studies to become a Priest. You have to read the book in order to get the feel of what it was like to be inside the warm and loving, but also in other spaces murky and haunted, labyrinths of the Catholic Church hierarchy and hierarchies.You have to read it to find the collusion between the repressive French State and the Church hierarchy in Reunion, until as late as 1982. From beginning to end, the autobiography is reminiscent of the atmosphere created by Umberto Eco in his novel set in a Middle Ages monastry, Le Nom de La Rose. You have to keep reminding yourself that things were clearly still like this only 30 years ago.

It is a must read.

I am left with the impression, however, that Reynolds Michel until now, and this is what is so charming about his writing style, has no idea how the Church hierarchy in Mauritius actually worked at the time, nor how it works now. He thinks maybe Bishop Margeot was influenced by Fathers Dethise and Nagapen into sending him off to France with him thinking he will become a Priest only to find out that there is no possibility of his becoming a Priest until he has a Bishop behind him. What is strange about this is one expected Reynolds Michel to have had the marxist tools to understand the class forces behind the church, but he clearly hasn't been able to apply these tools of the mind to what was closest to his heart, his Church. So the power of the Church to hurt him was immense.

On a more personal level, for the first time I realized the basis for a very minor personal misunderstanding I had with Reynolds Michel in about 1977. He reproached Lalit de Klas (the Tribinn Lib de Gos, that later was to become Lalit) for criticizing the Church. In his autobiography, he pleads for a kind of alliance between "socialists" and "christians", rather than "christians can be socialists and vice versa", so criticism of the Church in a Lalit de Klas magazine, I realize now, might have "hindered" such an alliance. The articles, it is worth mentioning, did break with a Mauritian tradition that the Press never ever criticized the Church hierarchy. They were fine articles, submitted by two different rural working men. Reynolds might like to be introduced to them one day.

Lalit de Klas worked together very well with Reynolds Michel's Mouvement Chretien pour le Socialisme (MCPS) on a number of political and social issues. Together with some other organizations, we set the basis for "common fronts" that were successful for a number of years, not only because of the mass mobilization of the times but also because of the sound organizational principles we developed together.

To understand present Mauritian society, and in particular the history of the the changes in the Church here - so difficult to understand from outside - this autobiography should not to be missed.

It is difficult to anticipate whether Le Veche in Mauritius and/or in Reunion will react. It would be wonderful if they were to open their archives and allow free discussion of everything.

Lindsey Collen