Migrant construction site

Three very intense days of coexistence and study relaunch the Comboni mission with the migrants. At the heart of the debate are open challenges, obvious critical issues, networking, wide-ranging proposals and greater awareness of the nodes of the various issues and their interconnection

Fr. Alex Zanotelli and Fr. Ottavio Raimondo during a moment of fasting in solidarity with migrants and interreligious prayer (Credit: Nigrizia)

A mixture of workshops, testimonies, prayer, conviviality and much missionary passion was breathed in Verona last 10 and 11 December, at the conclusion of the first stage of a journey born in the midst of the pandemic, in 2020, within the Comboni Family and open to society civil.

We then decided not to stand by and watch the numbers of infections rise and to react by launching a workshop of reflection, prayer and action called Common House construction site. The name itself wanted to evoke the work in progress in view of a reorganization of our way of inhabiting the planet, highlighting its contradictions and potential.

Starting with the first victims of the predatory socio-economic mechanism that makes Mother Earth and the impoverished cry out: the migrant brothers and sisters. They signal, with their movements, the temperature of the world and communicate unequivocally the chronic disease of a planet that has seen for the first time this year the threshold of 100 million refugees.

At the beginning of the journey we organized cycles of online meetings to explore the many nuances of a very complex and constantly evolving theme such as that of human mobility and we traveled Italy in its suburbs and geographical and anthropological borders listening to the different realities , challenges and witnesses.

We have thus decided to close the first stage of this itinerary dedicated to migrants with an event that had the purpose of summarizing the steps taken and relaunching the works of the Shipyard by opening them to the ever-connected theme of integral ecology.

The title we have given ourselves recalls that of Pope Francis’ last message for Migrant and Refugee Day and paves the way for the protagonism of that intercultural “we” in the creation of a new humanity: “Building the future with migrants and refugees”.

A challenge, an urgent laboratory. The only way for a truly humane and viable future on the planet threatened at its heart by climate change, wars, proliferation of weapons, racism and economic and social inequalities of global dimensions.

At the heart of the event is the thirst to get to the bottom of three interconnected aspects of migration: reception and rejections, illegal hiring and the invisible, citizenship. Accompanying about twenty participants for each workshop are three experts for their respective themes: Gianfranco Schiavone, president of the Italian Solidarity Consortium (ICS), Francesco Strippoli of the No Cap Association and Simohamed Kaabour, municipal councilor in Genoa.

Following a participatory and engaging method, the participants in the workshops were able, for a day and a half, to listen to analyses, data, videos, challenges but also to bring experiences, knowledge, doubts and questions to the table for discussion. Unexpected intuitions have emerged that have helped to dig into the complexity of the phenomenon.

The point on which these three themes converge is certainly that relating to the lack of documents which feeds the circuit of irregularity, exclusion, invisibility and exploitation. The mother of all immigration reforms should therefore provide for all people present on Italian soil an identification document that grants everyone the dignity of being able to be considered a human person and have access to basic services.

These flashes of skills, experiences and proposals were conveyed in the conference open to the public on Sunday morning at the Teatro Santa Teresa where some protagonists spoke.

Gianfranco Schiavone, relaunching the work previously carried out in the laboratories, underlined how the widespread perception is that the laws on immigration are unfair, irrational and lacking in prospects: «It seems that there are no alternatives. Instead different laws are possible, detailed, rational and easy to explain. We need to trigger a virtuous mechanism even if there is a certain subjection to an immovable state of affairs».

Veronica Atitsogbe, vice president of the City Council of Verona and founder of the Afroveronesi Association, testified to the blowing of a new wind in the administration of the city which spreads its wings to the laboratory of a new possible coexistence of citizens, the result of a long process of civil society with particular attention to the theme of the new generations.

Pietro Bartolo, MEP and former doctor on Lampedusa, testified to his work on the island with overwhelming passion and emotion when he met the landed, to heal wounds and torture and often to record absurd, violent and ruthless deaths. But he too presented his current commitment to Brussels to try to break through the icy heart of Fortress Europe which is perched in defense of his privileges.

The rich morning concluded with the ideas of Father Alex Zanotelli who does not spare a heated criticism of the selfishness of what he calls the white tribe author of the suffering of many peoples and holder of the levers of power that discards the impoverished and of the new bishop of Verona, Domenico Pompili, who emphasized three key words: the astonishment of fear fueled artfully by a certain policy that digs an abyss between the real and the perceived phenomenon, the time of the integration policies (a very contested word in the event!) which cannot be speeded up and theexperience which does not grow by the multiplication of meetings and events in which one participates but by the degree of involvement in a relationship with the people we find ourselves in front of.

The same bishop presided over the Eucharist animated by the Nigerian and Ghanaian communities, at the end of the conference, in the Church of San Giacomo which also hosted a delicious final banquet with African specialties in an atmosphere of fraternal conviviality.

The deepening, analysis, listening and meeting with witnesses on such crucial themes of migration were accompanied by other important moments that helped the Comboni Family to listen to the witnesses.

Like the evening of Friday 9 December, spent in Fittà at the Trattoria Sociale of the Associazione Sulle Orme with a fraternal dinner and listening to the vibrant testimonies of the members of the community that has welcomed fragile and migrant people for years, and on Saturday evening during the film The night is a safe place which narrates the journey and the intrepid story of Amin Nour, a young Eritrean refugee, and the presence of the director Giuseppe Papasso via video link.

Very intense moments of spirituality could not be missing to support all the work and leverage new perspectives, languages, motivations and actions in the commitment with migrants. Saturday afternoon with the Nonviolent Movement and religious leaders of the various groups present in Verona we experienced a very strong moment of fasting in solidarity with the migrants and interreligious prayer in Piazza Isolo accompanied by songs of freedom and by the exciting popular theater of the Social Center Paratodos to commemorate the dead at sea in the Mediterranean.

In the long journey of the Construction Site, not without various obstacles, the ingredients were not lacking and are still present to act more incisively in the work of caring for and building the Common House.

“We cannot justify ourselves and settle down by saying that it is not a favorable time for our actions with this new government – Simohamed argued at the end of the workshops – but this is precisely the best time to shake consciences and get back to work with renewed commitment to support change.

Migrant construction site – Nigrizia