The missionary and the dance that frees migrants

A woman “in love with the mystery of the person”, a nun who tries to give peace and freedom from pain to the migrants who flee to snatch themselves and their children from poverty. Even with dance, or rather biodance, the dance of life, a discipline made of corporeality and spirituality together. Because there is economic poverty, with the physical fatigue of living for lack of sustenance, food, work. And there is an emotional misery: migrants do not set out just to look for a job, to build a slice of dignified life. They often run away from violence, abuse, exploitation, from those who consider them only objects to be disposed of.

Pompea Cornacchia is a Combonian who has now forgotten her native dialect, the Apulian one, to embrace a warm and picturesque mix of Italian and Spanish. After missions in Ecuador and Colombia, today she carries out her service with three other sisters in Tapachula, in southeastern Mexico, just across the border with Guatemala. A city of 500,000 inhabitants that found itself at the center of migratory flows from South to North America. Not only caravans of thousands of Latins land in Tapachula, but also Africans and Asians who cross the sea, pass through South America and then set off towards the United States or Canada. A wounded humanity, rejected, uncertain about tomorrow and with a desperate present. Sister Pompea runs an emergency program within the Bethlehem reception center. “We called him Espoir, hope”. They offer meals and clean clothes to those arriving from afar, a shower and an accompaniment to the various hostels that various NGOs have opened in Tapachula to welcome the thousands of people who periodically arrive in Chiapas and camp while waiting for humanitarian visas that allow them to continue. towards the US border. But the goal of the Comboni Sisters is not to give things, however indispensable in a situation of extreme need, but to create relationships with people drained by the journey.

Sister Pompea has huge black eyes behind thick and round lenses, her hair is short, salt and pepper, a simplicity in telling her mission that makes her move to tears and then, immediately afterwards, smile happily. In her 55 years of life, she has known pains and authentic tragedies, but also extraordinary rebirths. It is mainly women who need her to embrace her. «They arrive wounded, with a sad look, sometimes empty. They break the heart. Almost all of them have been raped and mistreated, many victims of human trafficking ”.

Sister Pompea has a specific competence in psycho-spiritual accompaniment: what she does is to stay close to women, listen to them and start with them a path of care and resilience for the time they remain in Chiapas. In the program there is space for sewing and cooking courses, workshops for small handcrafted creations. And then there is biodance: a discipline born in the 1960s thanks to a Chilean psychologist, anthropologist and writer, Rolando Toro Araneda. Sister Pompea met her through a Jesuit father when he was in Ecuador and took care of the formation of the novices. «Biodanza is movement and emotion; tries to awaken forgotten or repressed movements of the body. It takes place in silence: it is the bodies and the eyes that speak. By welcoming each other we understand what the person feels, their difficulties. The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and by moving it freely we recover vitality, the pleasure of being, creativity, affectivity, going beyond the pain, the suffering we have inside us and all the poverty that afflicts us … Biodance it makes us more human and harmonizes our life », explains Sister Pompea.

The religious of Foggia origin holds several courses a week with groups of 15/20 migrants. «Each session has a theme: freedom, tenderness… Dancing, in absolute silence and in the meeting of gazes, women express their feelings and get rid of toxic emotions with tears and screams. To get close to wounds, words are often useless, we must let the bodies speak ». And again, here is the power of this discipline, which is also a method and at the same time a concrete tool to cure the affective poverty experienced by migrants: “After having danced and given space to their feelings, my students feel more happy, relaxed, united . The impact is very emotional; the aim is to educate them to feel capable of loving again, to understand that it is worth getting up and getting involved again ».

The results, continues Sister Pompea, can be seen over time: “If the person is capable of freeing his senses, he will no longer be afraid to embrace the other, to touch him, to enter into a relationship with him and, for those who believe, even with God ». Amal was a pupil of Pompea for two months: she came from Brazil and was headed to Canada. She was angry, she reacted badly to every approach, it was as if she had lost the capacity for human contact. Her poverty was absolute. Until after a particularly intense biodanza session, she embraced Sister Pompea and told the unspeakable: in the desert of Panama she had lost the youngest of the 3 children, who died of thirst and hunger. She “he had had to leave the body, and he did not forgive him.” Freed of her weight, Amal left a little more serene. A little less poor.

The events with which Sister Pompea comes into contact, in that junction of wounded humanity that is Tapachula, are heartbreaking. Consecrated woman among the most derelict women in the world: how do you feel? “Powerless. I think I could be one of them, with small children, on the street at night in the rain, with nothing. What migrants have to endure is not human, I feel small in front of their poverty, material and above all affective. But I also understand that my presence is important because they feel the love of God in me and this makes hope flourish in them again ”.

by Antonella Mariani
Journalist of «Avvenire»

The missionary and the dance that frees migrants – L’Osservatore Romano