Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Civitavecchia, Flashpoint between Church and Local Council

Eviction of immigrants from a church refuge in Civitavecchia. A very Italian story, in so many ways. From Corriere della Sera, 13 August 2013, article:
Civitavecchia is a port about seventy kilometres north-west of Rome. Cruise ships pull in there and people are taken by coach to see Rome from behind the bus windows. The town has a beach and lungomare with cafés and an old centre. Aside from the port area it is not too bad a place.
In what is called the suburbs of the town, though little more than a kilometre from the old town centre, is a church dedicated to Padre Pio, or San Pio as he now is. Writeup on who Padre Pio was: The parish church of San Pio is quite a modern building, photo at http://www.asiweb.biz/popian/.
The church of San Pio has been giving shelter to immigrants from north Africa, for as the bishop, Monsignor Luigi Marrucci, says, remembering the bitter story of San Pio: ‘A point of reference, a place of welcome, a refuge.’
Which is all very well, when you have a few people seeking refuge, but when more arrive almost daily, then the refuge has a distinct tendency to become overcrowded and insanitary, which is what has happened at San Pio. It is called by Corriere della Sera a ‘lager’, the newspaper uses the German word for a camp, I find on the Dictionary pages of Corriere della Sera that by extension from a concentration camp, the word lager is used in Italian to mean an institution or community managed in ways that are inhuman. That is the first time I have come across the word used in that way in Italian, but seeing as it is in the Corriere dell Sera dictionary, I assume it is fairly widely understood like that.
And when you welcome people of all sorts, you will get some who may be less than law-abiding by nature, and in the area around San Pio local people have been complaining of ‘violent episodes such as bag-snatching and assaults’.
On the night of 10 August the carabinieri moved in and evicted fifty people housed in the church, handing them over to the local authority, the Comune. This being Italy, the police did not inform the Comune that they were going to do this, so the Comune suddenly found itself with fifty migrants on its hands and was totally unprepared to deal with them.
The Comune found an empty warehouse at the port for the migrants to stay in temporarily, but as deputy major Enrico Luciani says, ‘None has the status of political refugee and many have a permesso di soggiorno. For them the assistance of the Comune is finished. The town has always had a robust and humanitarian approach to those who arrive on the territory in search of help, and the hospitality given to Nigerians near to the diocese is an example – unfortunately however when charity gives way to social disorder, it is in the natural order of things that the primary needs are those of the residents - of putting residents first.’
So the position of the police is clear, the stance of the Comune is clear – the migrants are in the warehouse for now but we’ll have no more to do with them. What about the Church?
Well that is equally as characteristically typical as the police and local authority are typically firm and distant. Typically it is a bit hard to follow. The archbishop is perhaps the clearest in saying that the disinterest being shown by the authorities with regard to people who are clearly vulnerable and in a state of distress is a disgrace and wrong. Though aside from criticism of others he does not appear to be offering much by way of solution himself. That fits. The local diocese – is that the bishop? – formally asked for the evictions to take place on the grounds of sanitation and hygiene, though the bishop himself seems to be going on about how those who follow the teachings of San Pio should welcome anyone who is in need. Meanwhile the Curia, the local management of the church, are suggesting they don’t think there is a problem, they say they have never been approached with complaints by any official – all that is if I have understood what the newspaper article says correctly.
Among the things that make this so Italian are the disinterest of the authorities, the lack of communication between official bodies, the muddled and mixed messages from the Church, and riding above all of that, what Italy is going to do about its immigrants, who grow in number by the day, as do the stories of squalor, riots, lawlessness and distress. Which the politicians in Italy seem to be turning their backs on, apart from the Lega Nord whose pronouncements suggest that they have little idea that there are human beings involved here. For those such as me who take an interest in the future of Italy this is all very poignant, though not very pleasant to watch, as whichever way you look it seems it will only get worse.

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