November 2021

 

40 YEARS OF THE ASTALLI CENTER: REFUGEES, HOPE OF AN EVER GREATER "US

Pope Francis sent a message on the occasion of the opening of the exhibition "Faces of the Future" on Tuesday 16 November, marking the anniversary of the Italian branch of the Jesuit Refugee Service. "May it raise awareness of the growth of the culture of encounter that protects from the errors of the past," the Holy Father wished.
Pope Francis wrote his introductory greeting on the occasion of the opening of the exhibition "Faces of the Future" on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Astalli Center: twenty portraits of refugees hosted by the Jesuit Refugee Service and made by Francesco Malavolta in the streets of Rome. Cardinal Angelo De Donatis inaugurated the exhibition, on display in the church of Sant’Andrea al Quirinale until November 28, Tuesday morning, Vicar for the Diocese of Rome, and Cardinal Michael Czerny, Undersecretary of the Holy See's Migrants and Refugees Section. Also present for the occasion were the President of the Lazio Region, Nicola Zingaretti, and the new Mayor of Rome, Roberto Gualtieri.

 

 

In the Pope's incipit, some names -Duclair, Nathaly, and Haider- to represent the refugees who, in the last forty years, have arrived in Italy and have been accompanied by the Astalli Center. Men and women who have found not only a meal or a roof over their heads, but - in relationships and mutual knowledge - "the meaning and strength to embark on the path of freedom". And the Pope quotes the Bible:
"Forty, in the Bible, is a significant number that has many references, but certainly thinking of you makes one think of the people of Israel who for 40 years walked in the desert before entering the land of promise. Freed from slavery, it took them a generation to establish themselves as a people, with quite a bit of difficulty. Even the last forty years of human history has not been a linear progression: the number of people forced to flee their land is constantly increasing."
"A desert of humanity"
"Many of you have had to flee from conditions of life similar to slavery," the Pope said, "where at the root is a concept of the human person deprived of his dignity and treated as an object. Francis dwells on the fact that 'war can be terrible and despicable'".
The Pope then insists that "the history of recent decades has shown signs of a return to the past. He refers to the conflicts that have resurfaced in different parts of the world, to the nationalisms and populisms that have resurfaced in different latitudes, to the construction of walls as the only solution with which governments, he stresses, seem capable of managing human mobility.

However, Pope Francis does not forget the signs of hope that, even in these 40 years, "allow us to dream of walking together as a new people towards an ever greater us."
"There is in you the ardent desire for a full and happy life that impels you to face with courage concrete circumstances and difficulties that, for many, may seem insurmountable. When given the opportunity, you offer us indispensable words to know, to understand, not to repeat the mistakes of the past, to change the present and to build a future of peace. The stories of the many men and women of good will who have given their time and energy during these 40 years at the Astalli Center are a sign of this same hope: thousands of people very different from each other but united by the desire for a more just world in which dignity and rights truly belong to everyone."

The Pope expressed the desire "to be able to live together as a free people because of its solidarity, which knows how to rediscover the community dimension of freedom, as a united people, not uniform, varied in the richness of its different cultures." Quoting Fratelli tutti, he emphasized that "the time has come for a common house made of brotherly peoples". "May the faces of the men and women represented in the photographs of the exhibition encourage them to 'be active participants in the cities as a place of shared life,'" the Pope said.
The most sincere wish that can be formulated on the occasion of this anniversary is that the "culture of encounter" becomes a reality and that we as a people become passionate about the desire to meet each other, the search for points of contact, the building of bridges, the organization of something that involves everyone, said Francis.

At the opening of the exhibition, Cardinal Michael Czerny, undersecretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development, took up the elements of reflection offered by the Pope's introduction and recalled the discernment made in 1980 by Father Pedro Arrupe, then Father General of the Society of Jesus, which led him, faced with the situation of Vietnamese boat people, to create the Jesuit Refugee Service and the Centro Astalli. "During these 40 years, the Spirit has continued to speak, better to cry out, through the lives of women and men wounded in their dignity, fleeing from conflicts, climate change and poverty," said Cardinal Czerny.

The cardinal went on to say that "migrants and refugees have very often suffered from the transformation of the rights of all into the privileges of a few". He gave the example of migrants rejected at the Mexican border, journeys of hope in the Mediterranean Sea, exoduses of displaced people in Africa, and persecution of ethnic minorities in Asia and Latin America. "We are witnessing a contraction of the universality of human rights, and the pandemic has tragically highlighted this," the cardinal noted. "In the face of a history that seems to be going backwards, in the face of so much pain, so many wounds, the awareness that the pandemic has created in relation to this sick world,
we cannot remain indifferent," he stressed, inviting us to change our way of life, not to remain deaf and indifferent.

At the opening of the exhibition, the protagonists also gave their testimony. Jawad and his wife Nazifa, refugees from Afghanistan, told their story: a family that has been living in Italy for more than 10 years: "We have to find a place to live here for those who stayed in Afghanistan. The current pandemic makes it even more difficult, because we have to find reception structures and start the procedures to recognize the international protection and begin a process of integration".
The testimony of Joy, a refugee from Nigeria, is different: "My name is Joy Ehikioya and I am black. You would never know it by looking at me, because I don't have a single gram of melanin in my skin to prove it". Albina, born in Nigeria, arrived in Italy in Lampedusa, welcomed, helped and protected. "I am a person who was given a second chance. A precious second chance. And I decided to take it with the enthusiasm, the smile, the strength and the madness that characterize me". Cedric, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, is also a refugee. "I am an actor. I made art my life, my passion, but it was for art that I was forced to leave my country. Through acting, theater and film, I denounced the police violence against women prisoners, a violence that is otherwise ignored by the government. I could not and would not remain silent. But my voice meant being sentenced to death.
The young man appeals: "To all the people who, like me, are on the move, fleeing wars and violence, and who are in search of peace and rights, I wish to find an open door, the right door, the threshold through which to glimpse a new tomorrow.

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