The Giorgio La Pira International Student Centre in Florence promotes a culture of dialogue, welcome and respect to help us rediscover we are all members of one human family.
“Attending the La Pira Centre made us realise that the school was fundamental to building a future of peace and serenity, and inspired us to create something that would enable lots of children to receive a good education”. Armand José and Armand Xavier Mabiala are two young brothers from Angola. The first graduated in economics in Florence, the second is studying civil engineering. Both attended the Giorgio La Pira International Student Centre in the Tuscan capital where they took courses in Italian and participated in cultural activities, and made friends with young people from different backgrounds, cultures and religions. It is a place that has become such a point of reference for them that they want to take the values it expresses back to their own country.
Founded in 1978 at the request of Cardinal Giovanni Benelli, Archbishop of Florence, to support students from other countries, and entrusted to the Focolare Movement, the Centre is dedicated to Giorgio La Pira – who was one of the founding fathers of the Italian Republic and mayor of the city between 1951 and 1965. Its purpose is to be “a place of fraternal welcome, encounter and dialogue” – according to its website www.centrointernazionalelapira.org – a “door opening on a Europe that is willing to give as well as receive, to learn from everyone”. Its horizon is “the dream of the Gospel, the ideal of universal brotherhood, the dream of Peace whose goal is a united world”. Having received a sum of money from their father the two brothers, instead of spending it on themselves, decided to invest in something they considered more important for their country, on education, as an instrument for peace, development and well-being. They have built a school in Luanda, Angola’s capital which is also named after Giorgio La Pira and takes its inspiration from the ideal of universal fraternity.
This is just one of the many stories told at the La Pira Centre and speak of welcome, solidarity and friendship between people of different origins, convictions, faith and culture, even during this time of pandemic.
Mohamed Abou El Ela is a Florentine student, a member of the board of Young Italian Muslims and secretary of the Islamic Community of Florence and Tuscany. Together with other young Muslims and with the support of the Islamic community, Caritas, the Food Bank and the La Pira Centre – which he attended with his friends – he has formed a group of thirty people who bring relief to hundreds of students and families in difficulty, and volunteer for the Red Cross, Misericordia and the Caritas canteen. “In difficult times we must not act separately but in a more united way,” he explains. “This is the lesson we have learnt from the crisis imposed on us by Covid19.
A story of sharing and cooperation that overcomes ideological barriers, emphasising how we are all members of one human family. This is the spirit underpinning every activity and every project at the La Pira Centre.
Claudia Di Lorenzi