Today, January 14th, is celebrated the 104th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, proposed by the Catholic Church, and the Pope Francis expressed in his message his concern about the plight of so many who flee from war, persecution, natural disasters and of poverty.
From our experience, we want to comment on your message, which begins with these textual words: The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD, your God.(Lev. 19:34).
Every stranger who knocks at our door is an occasion of encounter with Jesus, who identifies with the foreigner accepted or rejected of every epoch (cf. Mt 25,35,43). So, I take the liberty of changing the preposition: the stranger does not live “among”, but lives “on” us. In this regard – said the Pope – I wish to reaffirm that the common answer could be articulated around four verbs: to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate.
“Considering the current scenario, welcoming means, above all, offering migrants and refugees broader possibilities for safe and legal entry into the countries of destination” (Pope Francis).
The Italian Ministry of the Interior released the following data: from January 1st to December 22nd, 2017, in the port of Augusta, 16,483 refugees landed, 93% male and most were unaccompanied minors. How to make yourself present in a delicate moment like this? On August 4th, the first Marist became operative at the port of Augusta. “After five months of torture and violence,” a young man told Gabriel, “I saw a smiling face that shook my hand and did not mistreat me.” Look at https://goo.gl/9BKyhX
But we are aware that a smile cannot solve the problem of welcoming. So little can it be resolved with an expulsion document that police gives to the whole group and then transport then to the Augusta train station. People just landed in Italy, deprived of everything. Not only do they not know where to go and what to eat, as they do not have or how to make basic necessities, whereas in many seasons the bathrooms are paid.
“The second verb, to protect, is conjugated in series of actions in defense of the rights and dignity of migrants and refugees, regardless of their migratory status. Such protection begins at home and consists of providing correct pre-departure information and protection against illegal recruitment practices” (Pope Francis).
The majority of the minors started the trip which brought them to Italy without the parents, often in groups with other friends. Almost everyone had a cell phone, but “Google Maps” only provides “virtual” indications: it does not indicate where human traffickers wait, behind which hill they are, in which countries they will be forced to work 15 hours a day in exchange for one promised help to continue the journey, not even where they will be tortured and extorted.
For some boys this itinerary lasts up to a year (or more) and nobody forgets it: not because its duration, but because the tragedies that accompanied them. Saliou, a young man attended by us, remember how he managed to save himself in a Libyan prison. “When a new group arrived in the camp and wanted to leave for Italy, the “rite of introduction” that the guards used was shouting orders and, in the absence or slowness execution of the commands, a blast of machine-gun letting on the ground dozens of dead”.
He also remembers hearing shots and saved himself by falling and staying overnight under the bodies of his dead comrades. Reading these lines is dramatic, but listening to them, while they are telling us the story, is a situation that we face only because we know that talking is good for them.
“To promote essentially means working so that all migrants and refugees, as well as a community that is welcoming, are put in conditions to realize themselves as people in all the dimensions that compose a humanity wanted by the creator God” (Pope Francisco).
My son, if you stay here, you will surely die. But if you leave, maybe you can survive”. This was the advice of Souleymane’s mother, another young man we meet, who felt powerless and incapable of assuring his son’s life: it is the second cut of the umbilical cord.
For us westerners, used to abortion and euthanasia, this news can be considered “normal.” But it is not for her, not only because she is an mother, but because she is African. After several difficulties, we got a contact with his mother, who lives in Cote
d’Ivoire and speaks discreetly French. We said that the son had arrived in Italy, he was in a family house with 7 other boys and when we asked her if she wanted to talk to his son, we heard shouts of joy.
After a brief moment of French conversation, they continued in “dioula”. It’s been some months since this moment. Before, when we went there to meet him, we used to speak in French. Now, it is no longer necessary: he speaks correctly the Italian with the typical Syracuse accent. He attends the middle school and in the class everybody loves him. But, unfortunately, that is not everyone’s destiny. A few months ago, for example, a 15-year-old boy from one of the centers told us, “Why, when I get on a bus, do people look to the other direction?”
“Integration is not an assimilation, which induces us to suppress or forget our own cultural identity. Contact with the other leads us to open ourselves to it to receive the valid aspects and thus contribute to a greater reciprocal knowledge” (Pope Francisco).
For Europeans, this verb, among all those described in these lines, is the most difficult to conjugate. It is, above all, the point of weakness of all the immigration policy developed in the recent years, for reasons of complex social explanation.
They were for a long time (and somehow, anachronistically, there are still those who think they remain) the center of the world: they exported everything, even the faith, and, by good or bad, imposed things. For many, the sun still revolves around the earth and so it is difficult to understand that the other is not a threat, but a wealth, always!
In Pope Francis´s words, speaking to the crowd gathered in the Vatican today, I conclude this comment: “Fear is human and legitimate, but if fears condition options, then it is sin!” The foreigner residing among you, does not matter from where you are.
Original text available at: http://champagnat.org/400.php?a=6&n=4601