As Peru continues to welcome thousands of refugees, mostly Venezuelan, Gustavo Clarià reflects on the Focolare’s response.
I was familiar with the content of Pope Francis’ ‘Message for the 105th Word Day of Migrants and Refugees 2019’. But listening to it being read to a hundred or so migrants, mainly from Venezuela, was something else! The words resonated in a new way, some paragraphs in particular, and it touched me deeply.
I was meeting many of these people for the first time, as they arrived at the Focolare’s “Fiore Centre” in Lima, Peru, which is active in receiving migrants during the current situation. I listened to them explain why they had left their own country, with what suffering, often going through the anguish of leaving a spouse, children or elderly parents behind, their efforts – often futile – to help those relatives by sending money back. They spoke of their loneliness, their experiences of rejection and discrimination, of being condemned by local people for ‘stealing our jobs’, of continually being regarded with distrust and suspicion.
They helped me understand the Pope’s message from a new perspective and to recognise its importance more clearly. I started to see what lies behind the so-called migrant phenomenon. According to statistics, 70.8 million people have been forced to flee their countries around the world, of these nearly 26 million are refugees. It’s a shocking number.
Pope Francis concentrates the response to the migrant challenge into four verbs: welcome, protect, promote and integrate. They do not apply only to migrants and refugees. They apply to everyone, as the Pope goes on to explain, “the Church’s mission( is) to all those living in the existential peripheries” including “migrants, especially those who are most vulnerable”.
The Pope’s full message was read to our group by Silvano Roggero, who is the Venezuelan son of Italian immigrants and a member of the Focolare’s International Commission for Migrants . Koromoto, from Venezuela, expressed his reaction, “We got here through the Lutheran Church. At first we were so frightened about what would happen to us and what we would find. But they gave us such a generous welcome, we were made to feel like family, like we do today among you here with the Focolare”.
I saw such gratitude to the county which has welcomed them in, a sincere desire to integrate themselves, while still keeping strong ties with their roots. I’ve understood their anxiety to help the loved ones they have left behind in their home country and to repay the help they have received.
Our day together continued in a family atmosphere with a celebratory lunch, accompanied by some of them singing songs from their homelands. We all got to know each other better and hope to meet up again, Peruvians and Venezuelans (and others) , as we continue to vitalize the four verbs proposed by Pope Francis.