To be true sisters, in solidarity with them
Testimony of Sr Celina in Caltanissetta, Italy
The project of UISG (International Union Superiors General) in favour of migrants is carried out here in Sicily by 10 religious sisters from three different communities, in three different cities. Here in Caltanissetta with me are other three sisters of Franciscan spirituality, from three different Congregations. The spirit of this project asks us first and foremost for an ongoing commitment to living the gospel, in communion of the Charism of our different Congregations.
The migrants I met so far have very sad stories, difficult to hear and to bear: they ask to be listened to, welcomed, respected, tolerated and be helped in order to integrate better. Our living together becomes a “gymnasium” because the real challenge is this: to be true sisters, in solidarity with them, especially at this moment. In these days, they have begun to get showers of letters of non-acceptance of the applications for international protection presented by migrants and therefore, consequently, the injunction to leave. Where? They have already started to flee, some are giving themselves to the dishonour, some leaving for other European countries in the hope... that some compatriots help them (??)
Before coming here, I heard a lot about migrants camped under the bridges of the Catania-Palermo motorway. The two sisters who were here from the beginning told us that when there were boat landing, many boys and men camped under the bridges waiting to have their documents or be admitted in the center of identification and expulsion that is 4 km from the city. Now that the emergency has passed, under the bridges, stop for a few days those who already have work in northern Italy and return to Caltanissetta to renew their documents. Last week, I visited the place and found only four men: one African, two Pakistanis and one young man from Bangladesh.
The initial request/necessity of migrants were clothing, blankets for shelter and food to sustain themselves. With Caritas and many volunteers, the sisters helped a lot in that time of emergency under the bridges! As soon as we entered the reception center, however, the migrants began to ask for help to learn Italian in order to prepare for integration with the hope of finding some occasional jobs. When I arrived, I found about twenty people for the Italian classes. From the end of November, there are three classes with a total of 82 members, from 15.30 to 17.30, mondays to thursdays. On tuesdays and fridays, from 10 am to noon, a score of Pakistani women were added, (women who generally never went to school). They also asked to learn Italian in order to relate better with their children and the society. Well, I immediately joined this program of Italian lessons because, to this day, it seems to me that, this is the service they needed most. And after or during classes, they ask for a listening ear to tell their stories, express their fears, make requests for advice, etc.
We do not know the future of this project; that of the migrants here in Caltanissetta is a very flowing reality: they come and go; now many are expelled.
A good number of Moroccans, Pakistanis and Nigerians, arrived in the years 2000/2015. They have been allowed to stay for five years and have applied for family reunification of wife, children and elderly parents. They settled in Caltanissetta because here life is less expensive and many natives of Caltanissetta have left their homes to move to the cities of northern Italy. The Pakistani women, especially those of Pashtun ethnic group, have asked to be helped to learn Italian.
We sisters also collaborate with the sharing of meals to the poor of the city, managed by our parish; with the society of St. Vincent in following the poorest of families, the visit/meeting with the youth of the juvenile prison; with Caritas diocesan for literacy programs, after-school for children of migrants and support service to families in distress. Another great commitment is to advise and help young migrants to approach the competent offices to obtain documents, or to accompany those who still do not know how to express themselves in Italian language to the doctor or to the hospital.
How will our future be? We do not know, every day we try to decipher requests and needs to see "a sign" where God calls us or what he wants from us. I entrust to you, we entrust ourselves to your prayers.
Sr. M. Celina Stangherlin