The English Committee
August 2019 \\ Erica Scroppo
A report on a visit to Sicily by the Moderator of the URC Rev Nigel Uden and our committee member, Simone Maghenzani.
The United Reformed church of Downing Place in Cambridge has been supporting, via the World Church and the World Mission Group, the project Mediterranean Hope for refugees and migrants set up by the Protestant Churches of Italy, and mainly run and financed by the Waldensian Church. In April 2018 Nigel and Simone were sent to make personal contacts there and acquire a better knowledge of their activities. They visited Scicli, Pachino, Vittoria and Pozzallo. And of course seeing with your own eyes and meeting people is different from reading the news. Both Nigel and Simone were struck
by the warmth and commitment of the people, whether employed or volunteer, involved in the process of welcoming and integrating the migrants and the positive feeling one could sense everywhere.
Mediterranean Hope consists of four sections: observation, witness, reception and political proposal. Observation in the Observatory on Mediterranean migration on the small island of Lampedusa, witness in the House of Cultures in Scicli—which has received the prestigious World Methodist Peace Award—where vulnerable people such as pregnant women, mothers with small children and unaccompanied minors are helped by a team of social workers, psychologists and teachers to adapt to their new life and integrate into a new culture. (Scicli is also the place where the Montalbano TV series are shot and many locals, who enjoyed a boost to their meagre economy for the first time thanks to the increased tourism, are not that pleased with all those migrants.)
The next step for migrants after the first reception in Sicily is the Relocation Desk in Rome where the asylum-seekers are helped to apply for the status of refugees and, if accepted, subsequent integration. The Humanitarian Corridors are a safe way to leave places of danger or conflict without risking lives in perilous waters and at the same time enriching the criminal gangs of human traffickers.
Simone and Nigel also visited Pachino, where there has been a Waldensian Church since 1902 which has always combined ministry, evangelism and social care. Here the Church provides afterschool care for children—school in many parts of Italy ends at 1 pm!—but also social groups for the elderly and Bible studies for all age groups. Another place visited was Vittoria, where the Church is no longer active but where there is an Old People’s Home, still excellent but which has now fewer and fewer ‘customers’. It has therefore become a place where young refugees and migrants are hosted alongside the elderly Italians and the results are apparently very encouraging. Inventiveness, open-mindedness and Faith can really perform miracles!