The Pope’s invitation to open parishes and monasteries to host at least one migrant each has caused a tectonic shift in the aboulic conscience of the Catholics. From sincere observance we have switched to false applause, – provided that the charitable act was to be done by somebody else, – then to pure and harsh opposition. Francis knew well what numbers he was tickling (there are about 26,000 parishes in Italy alone). Yet, rather than merely showing hospitality, his intent was probably to make the Italian faithful face their fears. Thus, from the deep south to the north of Italy, some priests removed the bolts from their parsonages and started to invite refugees in.
Someone has stopped at the minimum required, that is, one parish – one refugee, and put their conscience to peace, others have continued to act (so far) as nothing happened; but there are also those who have tried to go beyond the Pope’s request with many ups and downs. Don Sergio Mattaliano, director of the Palermo Caritas and pastor of the church of St. John Mary Vianney, in Falsomiele, a village on the outskirts of the city, has not hesitated even a moment. Quite the contrary, for him who decided to host some fifteen people, mostly from Libya and Sierra Leone (“a year ago – he says – we opened the doors to the migrants). Also at the time Pope Francis invited the parishes and the Catholic community to accommodate refugees; other urban realities, such as the parish of St Thomas and the parish of don Pino Puglisi in Brancaccio, did the same). It was almost a blessing and an enlightening of a path of hosting which has now managed to transform into complete integration with the social fabric.
Don Lucio Muzzo, pastor of the Church of Santa Cecilia a Valle in Trissino, Vicentino, did not expect that the opening would provoke the anger of the parishioners. Refusal has arrived even from a public assembly, with a lot of yelling and whistling, as if it were a stadium. In the face of humanitarian hospitality. A slap in the face of little Aylan, the Syrian child who found death on the Turkish coast.
“Fortunately,” says don Lucio – now are starting to arrive some solidarity signals, after the appeal of the Holy Father. But I doubt that the general attitude will change”. This is not racism, explain the residents to La Repubblica newspaper. “Foreigners have been living here for more than twenty years now; there are Serbians, Chinese, Brazilians, and South Americans. Children of 12 different nationalities are playing in the park. But those foreigners have humbly become a part of our community, they have not been imposed on us”.
Tension remains high. The inhabitants are contrary and have promised a battle, organizing a demonstration in front of the parish. Don Lucio is concerned about the climate of intimidation that is growing and expresses his faith in the ability to persuade of the Association John XXIII, founded by don Benzi, who has asked to use part of the parsonage to accommodate some immigrants who are waiting for their status of political refugees to be acknowledged. But the first effect of the popular pressure has already made itself palpable: from the initial hypothesis of hosting up to 15 or 20 refugees, the number has been downsized to one family.
Don Lucio says that the villagers are afraid because of the bad advertisement of the migrants provided by the media (the news about the murder in Sicily is still vivid in their minds, and fear is comprehensible). Besides, the parsonage is located close to the school, and people are afraid that those people can harm their children or scare them. Then, add the residents, what are those people going to do during all day long? Who is going to provide for them? Who is going to pay?
In addition to the problem of distrust there are also bureaucratic issues that make the operational phase, after the Pope Francis expressed his desire, more difficult. “To welcome migrants and allow them to stay here – explains again don Sergio – we must follow complex bureaucratic procedures. Coordination with the Prefecture, the Police Headquarters, and with the Catholic communities is needed. For me it has been less complicated, in a way, because of double role I have in the Palermo Caritas, but not all parishes have psychologists and social workers, professional figures that are necessary and which we have in the Caritas. It is a complex path”.
A path that is uphill from whichever side one chooses to look at it, even if we consider big heart many people have proved to have. This is a story whose genuine solution cannot reside only in receiving charitable hospitality though, but in the political action that will aim at reconstructing life quality in the countries refugees are fleeing from.