Out of Africa
Christians are improving the lives of immigrants in Italy
During the first half of 2008, more than 15,000 illegal immigrants entered the European Union via Italy, the majority of them on boats from Africa.
Whilst thousands without official documents are imprisoned or deported, there are many more who arrive in Italy homeless and jobless, frightened and confused, having to take care of their children in difficult circumstances.
BMS workers Huw and Alex Anderson, who lead a Baptist church on the island of Sicily, recently got a glimpse into the lives of illegal immigrants from Africa when they visited a Catholic project, which cares for them through providing food, language lessons and a place to stay.
Alex sent us the following report:
We arrived at his church where there seemed to be about 20 young people from the Catholic Scout movement (boys and girls) milling about in the church garden.
They had heard about the work that Padre Carlo is doing with the illegal immigrants and decided to travel the thousand miles from their home in Milan to lend a hand organising games, activities and Italian lessons for the young African men that live in Padre Carlo’s church centre.
Padre Carlo greeted us with his usual beaming smile and rib-crushing bear hug and motioned to us to follow him. Upstairs in what used to be Padre Carlo’s library, a young Ghanaian woman was nursing her eight day-old baby girl. She is HIV-positive, so she and the baby have to be given medicine every three hours.
The hospital could not cope with them so Padre Carlo and team have stepped in and have organised their lives around the baby 24-7.
The mother was so grateful to Padre Carlo that she even named her baby Carla in his honour. He might be a celibate priest but he still has a baby named after him!
“Stay for dinner”, said Padre Carlo – so we did. The young people brought long wooden tables out into the open air and organised chairs around them, while the kitchen team cooked industrial quantities of spaghetti with tomato sauce. A local baker donated a giant cassata Siciliana, the traditional Sicilian layered sponge cake made with ricotta cheese.
Along with the 20 or so young African men who live in the church, what seemed like scores of others kept arriving. Word had got out about the dinner!
There must have been at least 60 people sitting around those tables and everyone had plenty to eat. We ate, we talked and we sang. There was a real party atmosphere.
It was quite a contrast to the horror stories these young men had to tell about beatings and persecutions back in their own countries, about starvation and abuse, about the trauma of their perilous boat journey across the Mediterranean Sea in search of a better life.
Many had seen companions drown on the way and most had arrived in Sicily with only the clothes on their backs.Some had been waiting for documents for months without any hope of getting work. They told us of an incident last week when an angry mob of locals had thrown stones over the railings at them and spat at them.
As I looked around the table at the crowd of young people – Italian and African – all laughing and having fun I began to realise that God had given me the most beautiful glimpse of what the Kingdom of heaven is like.
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Photo credit: No Border NetworkBack