After allowing believers one last chance to pray, French authorities demolished a makeshift church and mosque on Monday as part of a security operation at a camp in Calais populated by thousands of migrants and refugees.
France is trying to re-establish order in the long-lawless camp, and Monday’s operation was the culmination of a two-week effort to clear a 100-metre security zone around the perimeter of the camp, a regional official said.
The migrants and charity groups helping them were informed on 19th January of the pending demolition, the official said, adding that no-one was hurt in the operation.
However, the priest of the church said authorities had told him the building was “safe” from destruction.
The Reverend Teferi Shuremo clashed with police holding riot shields as excavation machines crushed the simple structure, leaving an empty muddy field beneath.
“They are trying to destroy peace,” he told reporters, clinging to a huge wooden cross salvaged from the church.
The regional official said the mosque had already been abandoned and no-one protested against it being razed. He said migrants are free to construct new places of worship.
Mr Shuremo pledged to build another church, adding that he did not know where, but “God will give me help.”
Before the mechanical shovels started their work, churchgoers held one last prayer, hand-in-hand, and worked with volunteer activists to clear the site.
British volunteer Joshua Williams said activists have worked to protect some shelters from demolition, and salvage wiring and other useful material.
“This is a church. This is a powerful symbol for these people,” he said in televised remarks.