They come from the most varied backgrounds, lands and cultures: Albania, Ukraine, Georgia, Morocco, Senegal, Romania, Nigeria and Belarus. Like many of their fellow countrymen and women they are leaving behind dramatic situations, as well as their loved ones in the hope of finding work and a better future for their lives.
They have landed in Acquaviva delle Fonti, a town of the Bari province which, like other southern Italian towns, has become the destination or crossing point for many who are dreaming of a better life. The Focolare community here has for some time felt summoned by their presence: “We had it in our hearts,” they write, “to see to it that these many foreigners/immigrants would feel welcomed in our city.” Personal relationships were established, bonds of friendship that overcame barriers and mistrust. “Three years ago,” they say, “we decided to organize a festival that we could all share during the Christmas season, so they could breathe in a bit of family atmosphere instead of the loneliness and marginalization that many unfortunately experience.” Our friendship became deeper and deeper.And now the Christmas festival has become an annual tradition. In what we call the ‘festival of the people’ our friends now feel free enough to extend the invitation to other foreign friends, and we are more than happy to welcome them.”
This year fifty people of all ages and religious backgrounds attended: “The family atmosphere that had been established in previous years was immediately renewed. Spontaneously people began sharing experiences about the journeyand arrival in Italy, putting in common both the sufferings and the joys.”
The proposal to live the Golden Rule – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you – as a basis uponwhich to build universal brotherhood and as a common point we could all share even amidst the diversity of our religious beliefs was immediately accepted by all because we had already experienced how “mutual love demolishes every distance. At the buffet which was served in the evening, alongside dishes that were prepared by the local community, there were also dishes from a variety of other countries that our friends had prepared. What gave everyone the most joy that evening was certainly the fact that we had experienced what it means to be a family.”
At the end of the evening, Abdul from Senegal invited some people from the community to take part in a prayer meeting in a neighbouring town: “Great was his joy and surprise when he saw us arriving. There were 200 Senegal Muslims there, barefoot and seated on prayer rugs, reading the Koran. Abdul introduced us to his spiritual leader and, then, two days later he was again deeply moved as he thanked us for our visit.”
Another concrete gesture was the opening of a listening booth that is carried ahead by the entire community in order to identify people’s needs and to provide expertise, offering Italian lessons to children and their parents, for example, or assistance in resolvingbureaucratic problems, finding medical treatments, and so on.
“This experience of family,” they conclude, “and the fruits that have grown from it make us certain that a united world is no utopia, but a reality already very much alive amongst us.”