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Global: Symposium on religion and refugees in Europe
17 October 2017

Participants of JRS Centro Astalli's "Communities of Hospitality" program. (JRS Centro Astalli)

Rome, 17 October 2017 – A symposium called Religion and Responses to Migrants and Refugees in Europe: The Catholic Church in Comparative Perspective took place in Rome between 12 and 14 October. It was organized by the University of Notre Dame, together with the Ford Family Program in Human Development Studies and Solidarity and the Kellogg Institute for International Studies. The key question it sought to address was how religion can play a role in integrating people and facilitating encounters and dialogue.

The symposium also informed a new research project on religion and the integration of migrants in Europe. JRS participated in the symposium proceedings and was represented by Amaya Valcarcel, JRS International Office, and Chiara Peri, JRS Centro Astalli.  

Based on our experiences, we looked at issues such as the greatest cultural, religious, political, social and economic obstacles to the integration of migrants in Europe; the role JRS has played in addressing these challenges and how JRS and the wider Church might have a more positive impact. We also suggested some important questions that scholars should be seeking to address in their research on religion and responses to migrants and refugees, and how the answers to these questions might help JRS and its work with migrants. This was especially important since the University of Notre Dame wants this project to be useful to JRS and other organisations.

The symposium speakers included experienced refugee workers from the Vatican Migrants and Refugees Section, the community of Sant'Egidio, Fondazione Migrantes, the Scalabrinis, and Caritas.

The Scalabrinis, for example, explained how they have transformed an old formation house for theologians in Rome into a refugee center, Casa Scalabrini 634, where they host around 30 people in a family-like atmosphere. “The fact of being a small number helps de-institutionalize the atmosphere”, explained Brother Gioacchino Campese C.S. The center is placed in a neighbourhood in Rome where many migrants live. “Once a month, we clean the neighbourhood, and local people invite refugees to have coffee. These small gestures help deconstruct stereotypes.”

The community of St. Egidio explained that humanitarian corridors created together with the community and other Christian organisations continue to save lives, and even if they are small in number they show that this mechanism is a possibility for states to develop integration frameworks. “We are now identifying around 500 vulnerable South Sudanese, Somali and Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia who could come to Italy through a new corridor. France is replicating this model as well, with a different juridical framework but this, for us, is secondary,” explained Monica Attias, from St. Egidio.  Attias also highlighted the important role of second-generation migrants who “…help us, as cultural mediators, to develop our services with homeless migrants.”

Centro Astalli offered up their project “Communities of Hospitality”, as a model of successful integration. In this project, 27 religious congregations have opened their convents and houses to refugees around Italy. The initiative specifically confronts lack of social networks for migrants which remains one of the biggest obstacles towards their integration in Europe.

– Amaya Valcarcel, JRS International Advocacy Officer


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