“Let us pray for hearts capable of embracing refugees.” These words were spoken by Pope Francis on July 8, 2013 during a pastoral visit to Lampedusa where he was deeply touched by the never-ending exodus of refugees fleeing from hunger, fear, war and every form of distress in their homelands.
The story of Cristina, Elena and Maria Norena begins with an Italian language course. The three of these women are Volunteers of the Focolare Movement, who felt called to be more personally involved in helping people in need. “It was in May 2011,” Elena explains, “the boats were coming at an unrelenting pace. Some 25,000 people were coming in from war-torn Libya. Two hundred immigrants came to our province in Trento. Most of them were young men between the ages of 18 and 30.” Maria Norena continues: “I also saw the lack of relationship and social life. These men told us of their solitude and they were suffering because they couldn’t speak Italian. Right away the others in our group offered their support and we began this project.”
The experience spread quickly and even some public institutions became involved. Cristina says: “We wanted to secure a future for these young men. With the help of many people we began to advertise in the local newspapers especially that of the diocese, trying to give a voice to these voiceless men. The bishop of Trent appealed to the Christian community to show concern for the young men who are our brothers.”
Meanwhile, the provincial administration decided to lengthen the project by granting two years of assistance to each immigrant from the date of arrival. At the end of the two-year period, the young men have to leave their temporary lodgings.
Maria Norena recounts: “We involved several parish groups and members of the local Focolare community in gathering funds and finding jobs for the young men so that they could enter into society and find permanent housing.” Cristina interjects: “Currently we have found homes for 16 of our young friends. We continue to experience the help of Providence which is always there to meet our great and small needs. We received 4 bicycles that were useful, because one of the men lives far from the city where there is no bus service. We also received a washing machine. That was a real need!”
One boy who lives in a guest house run by some Focolare Volunteers, wrote to us: “I thank you for everything you are doing, for the trust you have shown me, for believing in my honesty. I love you very much.”