Human Suffering on the Waters Off Lampedusa and on the US-Mexican border

Human Suffering on the Waters Off Lampedusa and on the US-Mexican border

Rev. Massimo Aquilante, the president of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI), and Dr. Paolo Naso, the coordinator of the Italian ministry known as Being Church Together, were in El Paso, Texas, and Nogales, Arizona, as well as Ciudad Juarez and Nogales in Mexico, to get to know close up the ‘Border Ministry’ for migrants coming into the United States through Mexico.

“When I arrived in the United States.” said Pastor Aquilante, “I was already thinking about the many people from various parts of Africa who every day are crossing the Mediterranean in makeshift boats to find refuge in Italy. Even though the boundary between the United States and Mexico is demarcated by a high chain link fence and desert rather than by water, along that border too there are thousands of desperate people willing to risk their lives to find a home in a new country.”

In El Paso, Texas, Rev. Aquilante and Dr. Naso were guests of the executive committee of the National Council of Churches of Christ, the ecumenical organization that brings together Protestant and Orthodox churches in the United States. “It was an important meeting” explained Aquilante, “which resulted from the fact that both the National Council of Churches and the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy recognize that addressing global migration is a priority for their member churches at the level of direct ministry as well as in terms of the work that needs to be done to pass more just and humane immigration laws. Those who died in the Mediterranean Sea and those who died in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona are victims of a kind of inhuman treatment that we cannot accept as simply collateral effects of our need for secure borders. It is a tragedy concerning which we as Christians must speak out.”

One of Rev. Aquilante’s strongest impressions from his visit to the US-Mexican border were the crosses and other objects set up among the cactus in the Sonora Desert to honor the memory of people who died of exhaustion and dehydration after they had just crossed into the United States. The area where they died is constantly monitored by members of the humanitarian organization Good Samaritan which was founded by UCC congregations in Arizona. Aquilante said he had been profoundly affected by the commitment and determination with which dozens of people of different faiths and of no faith walk every week through the desert to seek to leave containers of water for refugees facing dehydration and to help in other ways the refugees they meet coming through the desert. Their visit was intended to link the project Mediterranean Hope which was started about a year ago by the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy with similar ministries in the United States. Mediterranean Hope has a base on the island of Lampedusa where refugees arrive every day and is establishing a “House of Cultures” in Sicily which, when finished, will minister to dozens of immigrants and asylum seekers.

One practical result of the visit was an agreement between the National Council of Churches and the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy to exchange volunteers, including highly trained specialists, as well as on-going reports of each other’s experiences. Aquilante summed up his reflections about his visit: “The situations in which we work may be superficially different but nevertheless we are called to look for global solutions.”

This article was adapted for North American readers from a story which appeared in the Italian Protestant newspaper, La Riforma. We are grateful for the opinions expressed by our friend, Massimo Aquilante, even as we acknowledge that Italian Waldensians, like supporters of the American Waldensian Society, hold a rich variety of views on immigration. Rev. Francis Rivers, the executive director of the American Waldensian Society, joined Rev. Aquilante and Dr. Naso in their visit.