The papal charity Caritas Internationalis hosted a lunch Tuesday in Rome with immigrants and refugees, hoping to foster a “culture of encounter” during its Global Action Week.
Caritas' June 17-24 Global Action Week is part of its two-year Share the Journey initiative. Launched by Pope Francis in September 2017, the project is aimed at encouraging a “culture of encounter” and bolstering efforts to welcome warmly immigrants and refugees.
The goal of the project is to shed light on both the challenges and effects of migration at every stage of the journey in order to promote a “shift in thinking” on the issue. It has the support of the ACT Alliance, which is a network of 145 Christian agencies and a variety of other religious congregations and civil society groups worldwide.
As part of the action week, Caritas branches in all regions of the world will organize shared meals with immigrants and refugees, including the June 19 lunch at Rome's Termini train station, as well as other events aimed at raising awareness and prompting interaction with refugees.
Korkiss Diallo, an Ivorian emigrant living in Italy, spoke at the June 19 lunch about the prejudice migrants face in their new homes.
He said he is not a bad person, but was forced to leave his home country and search for a better life elsewhere due to war.
“Many people think that Africans are bad, that they steal, that they do things that are illegal,” Diallo told journalists.
“I came here I think to have a good life and to have work,” he said, adding that each country has both good and bad people, “so not all are bad, to say that all are bad is not true.”
Diallo, 23, left Ivory Coast in 2011 when violence erupted following the election of a new president. Diallo's family had supported the losing candidate, and feared they would be targets of the violent upheaval, so he left.
He travelled to Italy from Libya by boat. He had been told the boat ride would only last five hours, but he ended up spending a week stranded at sea with other migrants before being rescued in Italian waters.
Diallo then arrived in Sardinia in 2014, where he sought asylum. He then made his way to Rome and was put in touch with Caritas, who suggested that he participate in “A Refugee in My Home,” in which families welcome migrants or refugees to live with them.
The young migrant agreed, and was placed with an Italian family, who have accepted him as part of the family. Diallo soon learned Italian, enrolled in educational courses, and took a pizza-making class.
He now works seasonal jobs at pizza restaurants in Italy’s northern province of Trentino, and every Sunday he still has lunch with his Italian “parents” who initially took him in.
Diallo said he left behind a little sister and a grandmother in Ivory Coast, and plans to visit them for a month this summer before coming back to Italy. He said he eventually wants to bring his sister to Italy with him.
Speaking of the journey he took to get to Italy, Diallo said “I would not recommend to any of my friends in Africa to do this path.”
Speaking of his decision to travel through Libya, Diallo said he did not want to go “because it's a country without a government. I entered Libya because I didn't have another choice.”
“To all my friends in Africa I have said, that path is not good to take into Italy. If you don't have another possibility, stay in Africa.”
However, Diallo said he was “surprised” by the welcome he received, and has gone on to accomplish things he did not think would be possible thanks the support he was given from the beginning of his arrival.
Tommaso, Diallo's Italian “little brother,” told journalists that Korkiss “has taught a lot to our family, and I hope we have also taught something to him.”
Raffaella, Diallo’s Italian “mother,” told CNA her family chose to accept Diallo into their home because of Pope Francis' call to welcome migrants. After hearing the pope's petition, she said she felt moved, so she talked it through with her family, and the agreed to take someone in.
Raffaella said she has tried to create a stable home environment, and to teach Diallo “the same thing I taught my children; respect for people, respect for the rules, how to be a good citizen.”
Regarding the culture of fear and suspicion surrounding migrants, Raffaella said she has experienced this first-hand, especially after they first decided to welcome Diallo into their home.
However, she said the experience of her family has been wonderful, and they have no regrets about the decision to lend a hand to Diallo when he was in need.
She said part of the process has also meant learning how to accept and interact with other cultural and religious traditions. In Europe, “we are more individualistic,” she said, whereas “in African culture they are much more communal,” and often decisions are made together.
In terms of religion, Raffaella said she has also learned to have greater respect for non-Catholics. Diallo is Muslim, so she said the family has had the opportunity to learn things about the Muslim religion they did not know before, and they have learned “to respect him … and his times of prayer.”
In a message supporting the Caritas lunch, Pope Francis urged Catholics to participate in similar events organized throughout the world as part of the action week, such as meals or other activities, which he said raise awareness “on the global scale to support migrants and refugees.”
“Today, I would like to invite everyone — migrants, refugees, Caritas workers and institutions — to grasp the features of this journey that have marked you the most: what hope does your journey lead to? Try to share this thought and celebrate what we have in common,” he said.