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Migrantes: the compassion of Saint Scalabrini towards emigrants

ROME - “Bishop Giovanni Battista Scalabrini is a saint. A holiness that comes from his commitment as priest and parish, in catechesis and preaching, in the teaching and care of priests, but has at the center his pastoral and social commitment in favor of emigrants between the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. At that time from our country, due to the poverty of the countryside and in the hills, up to one million Italians left every year: half of them to the Americas and the other half to the countries of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. A commitment shared with another Bishop friend, Geremia Bonomelli, from two neighboring dioceses - Piacenza and Cremona - who will eventually share pastoral work with migrants: Scalabrini, with his missionaries, in America and Bonomelli, with diocesan priests, in Europe". Msgr. Gian Carlo Perego, Archbishop of Ferrara-Comacchio as well as President of Cemi and of the Migrantes Foundation, spoke about it.

"The pastoral commitment - he added - will be above all in sharing the journey and life with Italian emigrants, so that they would have the opportunity to continue a journey of faith, with celebrations and catechesis in Italian and also receive spiritual assistance. The indigenous clergy, in fact, not only did not care for the religious life of the emigrants, but sometimes hindered the activity of the missionaries. Bishop Scalabrini understood that abandoning the emigrants and their families who were leaving would also generate the abandonment of faith and religious practice, as well as joining socialist and anarchist movements. The social commitment will be aimed at promoting the protection of migrants, against profiteering agents and labor mediators, against exploitative employers, for the promotion of the rights of workers and their families and minors, raising public awareness and politics on several occasions - at the Turin Expo in 1898, at the 1899 Congress of the Opera dei Congressi in Ferrara, for example - and also formulating legislative proposals ”.

"In this regard, in a report to the Congregation of Propaganda Fide of September 4, 1889, Bishop Scalabrini wrote:" In the fazendas the emigrants worked in very harsh conditions, as wage laborers, generally on a piece basis, employed by fazendeiros largely despotic and exploiters, impacting both moral and spiritual life ”. The friendship lasted almost forty years between the two Bishops, Scalabrini and Bonomelli; and it is also testified by the their letters exchange, where you can perceive the passion for the care of emigrants which for Scalabrini will lead to the foundation of the Congregation of the Scalabrinians and for Bonomelli in the creation of the assistance work for Italians who emigrated to Europe ”, explained Perego again.

"Exemplary are the words of Bishop Bonomelli commemorating his friend Scalabrini in the Church of S. Bartolomeo in Como, in 1913:" Providence put me in contact with many men placed high up in the Church of God for office, science and practice of business, connoisseurs of society; but I can affirm it with all conscience: I did not find one or very few who knew as he did our true social and religious conditions , and the relative needs of our times! ... His gaze swept beyond his diocese, of Italy and Europe ". This gaze of Scalabrini is full of holiness because he is an expert in humanity, capable of dialoguing with institutions, of "leaving the temple". And it is this gaze full of humanity that the holiness of Bishop Scalabrini urges us, because "the joys and hopes, sadness and anguish of men, especially the poor and the sick" (G.S. 1) do not leave us indifferent, walls of indifference and arrogance, lead to commitment and sharing ”, said the President of Migrantes at the end.

“It is a gaze, that of Bishop Scalabrini, who has a preference for the poor, who at that time were exploited wage earners, forced to leave for the Americas. It is a gaze that involves us today, our communities to educate us in proximity to migrants, in this time in which - as Pope Francis writes in the encyclical Brothers all - "the temptation to create a culture of walls reappears", to raise the walls, walls in the heart, walls in the earth to prevent this encounter with other cultures, with other people. And whoever raises a wall, who builds a wall will end up as a slave inside the walls he built, without horizons. Because he lacks this otherness "(F.T. 27)", he concluded.



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