· Women’s voices ·
They disembark at Fiumicino Airport with indescribably bulging suitcases. Then when they open them you see the surprising objects they have brought with them: cooking utensils, ornaments, and small pictures. The Syrian families who arrive through a humanitarian corridor, organized by the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy, by the Community of Sant’Egidio and by the Tavola Valdese [Waldensian Board], were selected in the refugee camps in Lebanon for their specific conditions of vulnerability, through a painful procedure: the fact that they are here means that other families have been left behind, but at least these families have not risked their lives like the migrants who set sail, who we consider in any case have the right to a dignified welcome. Is it rash for a parent to have a child embark? Yes, it is ill-advised. But having listened to the first accounts of what those who set out have left behind them at home, I have realized that in many cases it would have been even more unwise to stay put in their own country. And when they arrive they have a ferocious hunger for life which it is hard not to admire.
Let me mention, for example, a boy from the Côte d’Ivoire to whom we, as the Methodist and Waldensian Churches, gave hospitality in Naples. He arrived illiterate and is now learning everything within arm’s reach, from playing the organ to mathematics, through professional training courses. A country cannot but benefit from his presence.
Offering hospitality to people who must establish a new life for themselves also means recognizing their freedom and competence to make the decisions that in their eyes seem best, even when we do not share them, as in the case of the two Syrian parents who, having lived in an apartment of ours in Vomero, preferred to move to Germany even though their children were doing well at school and were learning Italian.
Two Syrian women friends now live in that house with the children of one of them. Among the most meaningful moments of sharing I always remember that conviviality, of all sitting together round the same table. At my house in Portici too we often organize groups sitting at table together that are as inclusive as possible, where for example Syrians and Sub-Saharan Africans, who would never have chosen to be together, can meet. At a certain point one sees a physical change of position which is in reality both mental and cultural and distances and prejudices melt away in a last song together at the end of the evening.
I see Christians turning up their noses because they see more help being given to foreigners than to Italians, and even among Christian foreigners there is perplexity about helping Muslim foreigners. I do not judge the fears which often inspire these feelings, I accept them but I try to combat them with a thought that goes against the tide with respect to the spirit of the times: that is, that we are all in the same boat and that reciprocal solidarity among human beings is the only way for the salvation of all. Moreover as the Methodist Church we also gave hospitality for some time to a Neapolitan family from the Spanish neighbourhoods. We make no distinctions, we abide by the criterion which we consider the most consistent with the Gospel, and that is, “the last will be first”, whoever they may be.
I don’t think that we should stop merely because these ideas are unpopular right now. With those who oppose humanitarian choices I seek patiently to practise nonviolent dialogue which weakens the other person’s aggression, since attacking those subject to the suggestion of preachers of hate produces no appreciable results. Instead we must build precisely with those who do not, like us, think of it on a plane of reasoning that does not succumb to the temptation of division and exclusion. I see that at the level of daily relations with people this works, it requires an effort but it works. And this commitment is even more effective when it becomes the ecumenical voice of all the Christian Churches, which are now asking the European governments to broaden these humanitarian corridors and to follow the example of the Italian experience – so far we have amassed about 2,000 corridors and we have on our agenda the opening of a European corridor from Libya. This is neither naïve nor rash but is rather a responsible evaluation of our own actions, preserving transparency and above all the room for trust and for surprise. And this is because I believe in an original and creative God who loves us very much despite our weaknesses and never abandons us, as I have been able personally to experience so frequently in my life. (Text compiled by Laura Eduati)
Deacon of the Waldensian and Methodist Churches
St. Peter’s Square
Sept. 18, 2019
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