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Sunday, January 13, 2013
The 13th of January is the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. We offer some excerpts of an interview with the director of an International Centre that for 35 years has served foreign students in Florence, Italy. The centre has turned into to a veritable laboratory of peace education.

Basic support for young people from Asia, Middle East, Africa, South America and Eastern Europe is also offered by entities such as the Giorgio La Pira International Centre. How is this commitment expressed in concrete terms?

The Centre’s director, Mauricio Certini recalls: “In March 1978, faced with the disorientation and loneliness of many foreign students, the Church in Florence wished to provide them a place where they would be welcome with respect to their different cultural or religious backgrounds; a place that would be open to dialogue, where they could help each other in overcoming the difficulties they were facing; a place where they could meet. As Pope John Paul II would later say, a place where they would find the thrust “toward a culturally richer society, more fraternal in its diversity.”   

Both the diocese and the city responded enthusiastically to the proposal of Cardinal Giovanni Benelli, who began by turning for help from Chiara Lubich and the Focolare Movement. Several Focolare families from Florence offered to host students in their homes, for example, and to care for them as their own children. These first volunteers at the Centre opened themselves to love with a universal heart like the heart of God, with the sensitivity of people in today’s world, and the strength of the Gospel.”

Over the years the centre has grown. Now, as Cardinal Giuseppe Betori, former president of the Italian Bishops Conference has said, it is “a true home for the peoples.” It has become a very modern network of persons, associations and institutions. This is where the first foreign student associations began that would later become the basis for the constitutions of the immigrant community, which in the future will soon be arising in Italy at Pisa, Sienna and Arezzo.

“But the real meaning of the centre,” Certini underscores, “is the myriad of faces that we’ve encountered and continue to encounter, of young people from nations that are often embroiled in conflict. It is these that have made La Pira Centre an ongoing laboratory of peace education. These young people returning to their home countries – sometimes ruled by dictatorial regimes – can impose themselves as a real resource for democracy and aspire to belong to the future leadership class.”  

Source: “Toscana Oggi”

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