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Migrants and refugees: De Robertis (Migrantes), “Christian communities must make them feel welcomed”

The 2018 World Day of Migrants and Refugees will be celebrated December next. The opportune theme chosen by Pope Francis is “To welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate migrants and refugees.” The Pope will preside over the Mass celebrated in Saint Peter’s with ethnic communities, while the official initiatives of the Italian Church will be held in the Abruzzo region. For Fr Gianni De Robertis, Director General of the Migrantes Foundation, the Day is “an opportunity of growth for all Christian communities.” On the Jus soli Law: “the process must go on"

(Foto Siciliani-Gennari/SIR)

The World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2018 will be celebrated next December 14. Pope Francis will celebrate Holy Mass in Saint Peter’s Square – broadcast live by RAI Uno TV network – together with local ethnic communities. This year the Pope’s message is centred on four verbs: “To welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate migrants and refugees.” Official celebrations in Italy will be held in Chieti, in the Abruzzo region, with a Mass presided over by the Archbishop, Msgr. Bruno Forte. The initiatives of the Italian Church for this occasion were presented today January 9 (at 12:00, Vatican Radio – Piazza Pia 3) in a press conference in Rome. Initiatives include the program “Italiani anche noi” by teacher and writer Eraldo Affinati, a ten-leg journey on the “Penny Wirton” Italian-language cost-free schools for foreigners created by Affinati with his wife Luce Lenzi. It will be broadcast on Tv2000 as of January 14, every Sunday at 19:30. Mons. Nunzio Galatino, CEI Secretary General, Msgr. Guerino Di Tora, auxiliary bishop of Rome, President of the Bishops’ Commission for Migration and of the Migrantes Foundation were among the panel speakers at the press conference along with Fr Gianni De Robertis, Director General of Migrantes Foundation, whom we met for a brief interview.

Pope Francis will celebrate Mass in Saint Peter’s Square with ethnic communities ahead of his trip to Chile and Peru (January 15-21). What are the expectation for this year’s Day?

In some ways this event is out of the ordinary, and a fortunate coincidence. We expect all Christian communities to grow, in the awareness that all peoples are called to Salvation. Our communities are called to be Catholic in name and deed.

In Italy there are 5 million immigrants, one million of whom are Catholics that need to feel welcomed, especially at a time when discordant positions are voiced nationwide.

The citizenship law according to jus soli failed to be adopted by the end of the past legislature, contrary to expectations. What can we look forward to now?

Unfortunately it was as if thousands of people suddenly blanched, while they should be the primary object of every law. Sadly, other motivations prevail, despite the evident involvement of 800 thousand children and youths born and raised in Italy.

Although the law failed to be adopted in this legislature, the process will go on: diversity is enriching and it contributes to the growth of the Country.

The year 2018 has just begun and we already have news that at least eight migrants died and 86 others were rescued after a dinghy started sinking in the Mediterranean – it is feared that the number of casualties could increase. We are witnessing a constant inflow of migrants despite the Italy-Libya agreement …

The arrivals are a symptom of the great tragedy of surging inequalities separating the North and the South of the world and within each Country. In addition, armed conflicts have increased dramatically despite hopes to the contrary. Unfortunately arms trade is the most profitable business. Until these major wounds are healed we can’t expect migrations waves to decrease. Italy, Europe and the UN must play a more concrete role in governing these processes. It is the mission of the political realm in the noblest sense of the term.

In the meantime Italy has decided to send a military mission to Niger with the aim of combating the traffic of migrants to Libya and train the local army. What’s your opinion in this respect?  

When we heard the news I was next to a young man from Niger hosted by one of our communities in Bari, both his parents had been killed in the area of Boko haram, on the border with Nigeria. He had never been schooled but he’s extremely intelligent, he is now attending a Tourism and Hotel Management high-school, his dream is to become a physician. He suggested me the following, amazing reply: “In Niger we don’t need 500 soldiers but 500 teachers.” Also because we already have soldiers in great numbers – from the US, Germany and France. As known, areas with poor education are fertile grounds for terrorist movements. Moreover, we should not be supporting corrupted public personalities in positions of power across many African Countries.

The Pope’s message for 2018 is centred on four verbs: to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate refugees and migrants. Which of these has the priority in Italy?

We should not stop at the first step since the four proposals of the Pope are interconnected.

They all need to be put into action. As known, poor reception fuels the rejection of migrants:

They are often stationed in refugee centres, they don’t speak Italian and they are not helped to develop resources and cherish gifts. These four steps ought to be furthered as part of a whole, through widespread hospitality, to ensure that arrivals are not a problem but a major opportunity for growth and for the discovery of other values.

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