Thursday in Turin was an exhilarating and exhausting insight into the heart of Italy’s religious and ethnic diversity. From the morning spent at the Catholic Mission for Migrants, to a heartwarming discussion with an 80-year-old dissident Catholic priest, to a visit with a Waldensian pastor, and, last but not least, a tour of Ex Moi (the Olympic Village), which houses refugees, it was certainly an unforgettable reporting experience.
The day began at The Pastoral Office for Migrants. There, we spoke with Padre Don Fredo and Father Paul Ende about the services provided to refugees, which range from Italian language classes to a career resource center for women. Turin’s migrant community is made up of Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalis, Algerians and Moroccans, to name a few.
“Our aim is not to convert,” Padre Don Fredo said in Italian. “We believe in freedom of religion and the freedom of choice. So instead, we teach migrants about these freedoms available to them in Italy.”
At midday, we left for Pinerolo – a small town just south of Turin – to meet with Padre Franco Barbero, a dissident Catholic priest. But first, a pit stop in Stupinigi for much needed cappuccinos, and a quick tour of the Palazzina, one of the old Savoy residences.
Padre Franco, 80, explained how he went from being a traditional Catholic to what he calls a “pluralist Catholic priest.” In 1963, Franco met a gay man for the first time. “I was very ignorant,” he said in Italian. “But my attitude was not to send him away, it was to invite him to come and speak with me and teach me, as it was I who needed to be healed from my prejudices, and not him who needed to be healed of any illness.”
The Covering Religion class was moved by Franco’s words. “It was amazing hearing about how Padre Franco transformed from thinking gay people were diseased to defying the Catholic Church and marrying same-sex couples. It takes bravery to go against 2,000-year-old traditions,” said Santiago.
Daniel approached Franco as we said our goodbyes. “As a gay, Catholic man,” he said, “thank you for being open-minded and sharing love.” The Father smiled at Rodriguez, grabbing both of his hands and replied, “I’ve learned from you.”
Later, at the Waldensian Church in Pinerolo, Juan asked the pastor if the Church forgives the Catholic Church for its persecution of the Waldensians during the Protestant Reformation. The Pastor responded: “We cannot forgive on behalf of the people who experienced it in the 1600s, but we are grateful for the apology, and want to work together to promote dialogue.”
At 5 o’clock we travelled to Turin’s Olympic Village, a location containing bright neon-colored, yet crumbling, buildings that were originally created to temporarily house athletes and journalists during the 2006 Olympic Winter Games. Today, four buildings house over 1,000 refugees from several West African countries such as Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal.
Our class gathered in the center of the village where we met Niccolo Vassile, an enthusiastic Italian engineering student, and local Olympic Village volunteer. With a firm hand shake and a nod, we promptly introduced ourselves before diving head first into reporting mode.
“In Italy without an address, you are nothing. You don’t exist,” Vassile said. Wavering between Italian and English translation, Vassile underscored the camp’s conditions.
Pointing to a large crack along the bottom right of one of the buildings he said, “You see the walls?”
“If water leaks, it doesn’t have brick. It’s just sheetrock and,” he trailed off and made a crumbling motion with his hand.
Marrissa turned and shivered at the thought. How could individuals be living in these conditions?
We continued to talk as the wind blew, sweeping sheets and shirts on neighboring clotheslines up, down and around. Residents and volunteers began trickling in, drawing a semi-circle around our semi-circle. Each more eager to meet the other.
We splintered off from our larger group to introduce ourselves and start interviews. Fahmo Mohammed was surprised at what she found.
“It struck me. A young Somali man today that ‘your people are really struggling here.’And as a Somali person and journalist I feel obliged to help these people. And by what means can I do that?” she asked.
As the sun set, our relationships with them flourished. We gathered in a large informal living space containing 30 chairs, one red couch, a naked mattress, and a half kitchen with lime green bowls hanging off its shelves.
This was their home and we were thankfully invited in.
We took turns asking question, as Professor Stille translated our questions and answers in Italian and French. Throughout the rest of the night our use of language and proximity reduced the barriers between us.