As one family, across the sea

The commitment of Lorenza and the Trent community in support of AFN's projects in Lebanon and Syria did not stop despite the pandemic. The latest initiative is the collection of elder flowers.

Lorenza Coraiola is a retired nurse. She says she is shy, but to me she seems a volcano of resourcefulness and generosity; committed to interreligious dialogue, her passion is to live for others, especially those most in need be they near or far.
“In our area, in Rovereto, there are people of Arab origin and as I live close to these families, I realized the difficulties they encounter every day through not having mastered the Italian language and try to help. For example, I help them to book specialist examinations, to read online reports, to enroll their children at school, to look after the children when necessary if grandmothers and aunts have remained in their countries of origin… My various contacts are happy to be able to help those in need. A Syrian family, for instance, who arrived in the city through humanitarian corridors was looking for a drying rack and a shopping trolley bag. I wrote these requests on the WhatsApp group and already in the evening I was able to deliver them, to the surprise of my friends. My experience is that God intervenes in everyone’s life, he uses our fraternal love to answer a prayer.”

Syria and Lebanon have a place in your heart, how did this love come about?
«It began with AFN’s Distance Support (SAD) which I started to support many years ago: in 1990. I had read of the launch of the project in Lebanon in the NEW CITY magazine, the consequences of the war that began in the late 70s were terrible. There was a need to support and encourage children`s education so that they would not leave the country and later be of help in the reconstruction of Lebanon, so I involved my work colleagues as well. I supported a child at a distance as he grew up and today Johnny is 40 years old and works in Dubai. Since 2008 I have donated the SAD contribution as support for the Social Medical Center project in Beirut and continue to do so.

I have always been interested in interreligious dialogue and Lebanon is an example of coexistence between Christians and Muslims. 2 years ago, I had the opportunity to make a pilgrimage there with our diocese and I was very happy. I visited Beirut before the explosion in August 2020, but I could not visit the project as I was tied to the group I was with. When I returned to Italy and wrote to the SAD referent, Janine, she said: “But why didn’t you let us know, we would have joined you!”. I was sorry I had not taken the chance to meet these people who I feel are part of my family.

In what way do you feel part of AFN?
One thing I really must commend, is that over the years Janine and the project staff in Lebanon have always been committed to sending updates which told us of the precarious situation, the distrust, the people`s desperation but also that the contribution of the supporters comes like a balm on so many wounds. It was a current of love that came and went, and I felt this was very important. You could feel the attention, the concern to make donors feel like protagonists in the communications. A couple of years ago I started a distance support in the Philippines with another association, but I could not have any contact and I realized how important this connection is, to feel linked to the life of the project.  I look at the AFN display case, a large display case full of letters from the ’90s up till now, full of updates that have each touched my heart because they were overflowing with gratitude, affection, positivity! They used to be postal letters, now they arrive by email, and I keep everything. Both the baby’s letters, the updates, the photos, everything is precious. It’s like being one big family across the sea, to be part of what`s happening there, the pain and the hope; the precariousness but also the joy of the children the Centre`s team takes care of, the force of life that carries on, to be able to see that hope is reborn through the SAD, that we are in a network of love”.

“Syria is also in my heart. We followed the events of the Syrian people on the AFN and AMU websites, with friends from Trent, and we wondered what we could do to help in this truly dramatic situation. For some years now, we have been organizing dinners to do something concrete for those people who are suffering so much; dinners that not only allowed us to raise money for projects but were also an opportunity to be together and involve Christian and Muslim people. I remember some Arab ladies who contributed by preparing trays with the typical sweets of their country and I started a dialogue with them in empathy with the suffering of this community of Syrian Muslims.  We then supported the collection of signatures to suspend the embargo, feeling great pain because the initiative did not achieve the desired goal. Recently a letter from Robert Chilaud (project referent in Syria) was published on the AFN website. He came to Trent a few months ago and as we had previously had a zoom meeting, we felt very close to him.  It’s important to hear the experience of these people firsthand.”

What was in Robert`s new update that prompted you to become a promoter of solidarity again?
“When I read Robert’s letter about the current situation in Syria and humbly asking for help, it struck me when he said that people are losing hope, strength, but he gave an example of a moment when Providence had raised and restored courage to a person. I know how important it is to feel that there are people supporting you in the situation of suffering that you are living. Even a small economic contribution can give you hope, hearten, and help you to move forward. You feel this is possible because there are people who share the same ideals of solidarity. It is important to live this moment together, because together you can find the strength to rise again. I immediately made a personal donation and then I thought of sharing this need in Syria with the Rovereto community: we have a common fund that we use to support some poor people and pay for the use of the rooms for our meetings but for more than a year we have not been able to meet so there was a surplus. Everyone in the community agreed to send this sum in solidarity to support the AMU and AFN’s Syria emergency program. Each of us has someone close to us who is in need, but we cannot forget those who are suffering even if they are so far from us”.

Was it possible to organize solidarity initiatives even with the pandemic?
Car loaded with 32 kg of harvested elderflowers.
“As far as initiatives go, we haven`t been able to hold any more dinners in the last two years, but last summer, for the fourth year running, a large group of families gathered in Valle di Non for the “Solidarity Apple Juice” operation; thanks to the support of the Melinda Consortium which donated apples to produce excellent juice, which was then sold to support projects in Syria. Now it was urgent to think of something else and we came up with the idea of making and proposing elderberry syrup as a substitute; a refreshing drink much appreciated in Trent during the summer. A local company, learning that the initiative was a solidarity project, decided to do this work for free. We paid for the bottles and equipped ourselves to collect the flowers of this plant which grows wild along the Adige River and in the countryside. With the help of sticks that have scissors on top we were able to collect the tallest and most open flowers. The first harvest was carried out last week with about twenty people in our valley and the same number in an area above Trent.  The company had asked us for at least 10 kg of flowers for production, but I would not have bet a single coffee that we would be able to harvest this amount because the flowers were late in blooming. When we weighed the paper bags where we had placed them, they weighed 32 kg! In a fortnight the flowering in the sub-mountainous forests will also be complete and we will do another harvest. Each of us will promote the sale of elderberry syrup among our acquaintances, as we are not yet able to hold stalls, and the proceeds will go to the Emergency in Syria».

Giovanna Pieroni