News bulletin of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy-Feb. 2015
President Mattarella. Congratulations from Italian Protestant leaders
Rome (NEV), February 28, 2015 – Pastor Massimo Aquilante, president of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI) sent a message of good wishes to Sergio Mattarella, new President of the Italian Republic, on occasion of his installation in office at the Quirinale Palace, on February 3rd, 2015. In the message Aquilante mentions the deep cultural and moral confusion which the Italian society suffers for, in addition to the economical crisis, which make hard to honour that ‘citizenship contract’, able to guarantee the respect of institutions and of the State. To this end Aquilante invited President Mattarella to watch over two themes, particularly cherished by Italian Protestants: religious freedom and migrant rights.
Among the messages to the new President Mattarella, sent by Italian Protestant representatives, also those of pastor Raffaele Volpe, president of the Christian Evangelical Baptist Union in Italy (UCEBI), and of pastor Eugenio Bernardini, moderator of the Waldensian Board.
Religious Freedom. A FCEI’s conference at the Italian Senate
Rome (NEV), February 18, 2015 – Great satisfaction was expressed by Massimo Aquilante, President of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI), at the end of the conference “From admitted cults to religious freedom”, promoted by FCEI in collaboration with the Commission of Evangelical Churches for the relations with the State (CCERS), held on 16 and 17 February at the Senate (Sala Zuccari of Palazzo Giustiniani). The conference, which put at the center the urgency of a comprehensive law on religious and conscience freedom, to cancel the fascist legislation on “admitted cults”, was dedicated to the Waldensian jurist Gianni Long, former FCEI’s president, prematurely deceased, whose valuable contribution on the path towards religious freedom in Italy was remembered by many of the participants.
The Italian President, Sergio Mattarella, the Senate President, Pietro Grasso and the delegated by the President of the Government for Equal Opportunities, Giovanna Martelli all sent messages to the meeting. “The issue of religious freedom, which is the focus of your meeting, is of topical interest and points out to our legal system the urgent need to update protections for all religious minorities in the framework of the principles enshrined in the Constitution – read the message of President Mattarella –. In this contest the spiritual heritage of the protestant churches represents a great resource for a successful educational activity for the benefit of the entire community”.
The first session of the conference was on the theme “The role and rights of faith communities in secular society”, with the interventions of jurist Silvio Ferrari (University of Milan), historian Alberto Melloni (Foundation for Religious Studies, Bologna), philosopher Biagio De Giovanni (Oriental Institute, Naples), and political expert Paolo Naso (University of Rome – La Sapienza).
The morning of the next day was entirely dedicated to the European policies and legislations with the reports of Roberto Mazzola (University of Eastern Piedmont), Miguel Rodriguez Blanco (University of Alcalà), and Hans Michael Heinig (University of Göttingen). Marco Ventura (University of Leuven), Sara Domianello (University of Messina) and Francesco Margiotta Broglio (University of Florence) spoke on the European right of religions.
Mons. Nunzio Galantino, eneral secretary of the Italian Bishop Conference (CEI) opening the 4th session of the second day of the meeting, declared that the very notion of ‘admitted cults’ is both jarring with the constitutional principles and the directions of the catholic church teachings from which clearly emerges the need of a full recognition of religious freedom in all its dimension. It was the first time that a general secretary of CEI participated to a FCEI’s conference.
The critical points of religious freedom in Italy were underlined by jurist Alberto Fossati (Catholic University of Milan) – who spoke about the new rule on religious buildings enacted by the Lombardy Region – and by Tiziano Rimondi (Adventist theological faculty of Florence), who spoke about discrimination on the basis of the professed religion; several the critical issues mentioned among which information, religious teaching at school, spiritual assistance in prisons.
The constitutionalist Roberto Zaccaria, coordinator of a study group working on a draft law on religious freedom, recalling that for 25 years in the Italian Parliament many bills have been proposed with no success up to now, illustrated and explained the fundamental lines of the new law that exceeds the current legislation of 1929 on admitted cults.
At the final debate with the political representatives, chaired by the Waldensian Valdo Spini, Micaela Campana, in charge at national level for welfare and civil rights of the Democratic Party (PD), said that all indicators tell that religious freedom in Italy needs an acceleration. She asserted that the PD will do its part also taking into account the many proposals coming from the Conference. On the same lines also senators Lucio Malan (FI – Conservative Party), Andrea Di Mazziotti Celso (Scelta Civica – Liberal Party), and Alberto Airola (M5S – Radical opposition movement). All agree in saying that there is an important work to be done in the public opinion against the prevailing paradigms of these days, such as for example the equation between Islamic terrorism and immigration. From all came the commitment to work towards the direction of a law on religious and conscience freedom.
Valdo Spini, concluding the works, underlined that the jurist Gianni Long, to whom the Conference was dedicated, would have rejoiced for the results of the meeting and for the increased visibility of the work of FCEI and CCERS on the issue of religious freedom.
Religious Buildings in Lombardy/1. Italian Government to contest the new rule
Rome (NEV), February 28, 2015 – The Lombardy Regional rule no. 2/2015 on religious buildings approved last January 27 – which in recent weeks was the subject of harsh criticism from the protestant churches – will be contested by the Government before the Constitutional Court, as anticipated on February 24 during a press conference, by the leader of the Democratic party of the Lombardy Council, Enrico Brambilla. Great satisfaction for this news was expressed by the President of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI), Massimo Aquilante: “As Protestants – said Aquilante – we have since the beginning denounced this strategy of intolerance, stressing the need to have in Italy an organic law on religious freedom to prevent this type of legislative abominations”.
The act of appeal of the law – organized into 12 pages and presented on February 27 in Milan by Enrico Brambilla together with other exponents of democratic parties – has been sent to Prime minister Matteo Renzi and should shortly be before the Council of Ministers. In recent days the two protestants in Parliament, Senator Lucio Malan (FI) and Deputy Luigi Lacquaniti (PD), had already submitted a question to the government.
Religious Buildings in Lombardy/2. The first ‘NO’ to the new law comes from Monza
Rome (NEV), February 28, 2015 – A few days after the approval, by the Lombardy Regional Council, of the zoning law which strongly tightens the rules on religious buildings other than catholic, comes the ‘NO’ of the municipality of Monza. The Mayor Roberto Scanagatti, who is also the president of the National Association of Municipalities (ANCI) for Lombardy, made known that he has no intention of being influenced by recent changes on the “planning of the equipments for religious services”. The authorization to open a new Christian evangelical church – named ‘A new Day’- in Via Marsala is going to be granted. The request arrived to the Municipality a few months ago, everything was in order until the new rule was issued, complicating all the requests. “As far as possible we will disobey the new rule’ said Claudio Colombo – councillor for the city planning – ‘and we’ll grant the authorization to that project. The new law is senseless since affects a fundamental right. Also other religious communities are in search of a worship place and we’ll try to meet their need too”, he concluded.
Waldensian Hospital of Turin. Moderator Bernardini on the decision to shut it down
Rome (NEV), February 28, 2015 – A few days after the judgement of the Piedmont Administrative Court, which rejected the appeal presented by the Waldensian Board against the shut down of the Waldensian hospital decided by the Regional Council, the moderator of the Waldensian Board, pastor Eugenio Bernardini, expressed his bitterness for the decision, in a press release of the 3rd of February: “I still think that the closing of the Waldensian Hospital of Turin is an incongruous, uneconomical and unreasonable act”.
After more than a century of activity, in the year 2004 the Waldensian hospital of Turin – located in the popular district of San Salvario – and the other two hospitals of Torre Pellice and Pomaretto – in the Waldensian valleys – with a vote of the Waldensian and Methodist churches’ Synod was transferred to the Piedmont Region which, with a special regional law, took the commitment to maintain “the performance levels delivered” and “the Waldensian identity”. With the judgement of January 29, 2015, however, the Administrative Court legalized the act of the Regional Council as “the Region in the grip of the repayment plan and the progressive reduction of the number of beds, had to adapt to the limited resources available for the whole Regional Health System, which impose the cutback of smaller structures…”.
Lampedusa. A new ‘foretold tragedy’
Rome (NEV), February 11, 2015 – “Once again we are here to count the dead, men and women killed thanks to the stop of the Mare Nostrum Project and to the wall that Europe wants to build around the Continent” – declared pastor Massimo Aquilante, president of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI) to the NEV Press agency on February 10, 2015. Aquilante explained FCEI’s proposal of an humanitarian channel enabling refugees and asylum seekers to safely enter in Italy and then continue to their destinations within the framework of an European reception program.
FCEI is actively engaged in a program called Mediterranean Hope which includes a Mediterranean Migration Observatory operating in Lampedusa; a House of Cultures opened in Scicli (Ragusa, Sicily), a space for dialogue and sharing with the local population; a centre to offer shelter to vulnerable people (unaccompanied minors, women, etc.); an office for the relocation of refugees and asylum seekers operating in Rome. The project is financed by the 8 per thousand funds of the Waldensian and Methodist Churches and by the Protestant churches of Westphalia (Germany).
FCEI has also started a relationship with churches and associations in North Africa since it judges important to create networks of cooperation with those who work on migrations from another perspective.
Migrants. A conference on the alternatives to the deaths at EU borders
Rome (NEV), February 28, 2015 – “Dead at the EU borders – there are alternatives!” This was the title of the meeting organized in Rome on 23 and 24 of February by the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME) and by the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI).
After the first institutional session of the meeting, held at the Istituto di Santa Maria in Aquiro at the Senate, which saw the participation among others of senator Luigi Manconi, president of the Special Commission of the Senate for the protection and the promotion of human rights, the works continued on the following day at the Lutheran Church of Rome where participants focused in the identification of tools that go beyond the management of emergency, and in the definition of safe passages towards Europe. Franca Di Lecce, director of the Refugees and Migrants Service (SRM) of FCEI, explained that legal and safe access to Europe for those seeking protection is a priority for the European Churches. The complexity of migration flows, marking our times, needs different answers – continued Di Lecce; there are alternatives which should be included in a wide range program including short and long term solutions, such as the harmonization of policies and standards of treatment centred on human dignity; effective policies for family reunification; a resettlement plan for refugees; humanitarian visas for vulnerable groups”.
Among other contributions to the meeting: Manfred Benzing of the Evangelical Church of Spain and Ahmed Moawia president of the Greek forum for Migrants.
Labour. A Caravan for the dignity and sustainability of labour starts from Sicily
Rome (NEV), February 28, 2015 – On February 14, the Caravan for the dignity and the sustainability of labour, set off from the House of Cultures – Mediterranean Hope of Scicli (Ragusa, Sicily). This is an initiative of the Commission on Globalization (GLAM) of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI) to foster a discussion within the churches and in society on issues such as unemployment, dignity of labour, impact of economical development on environment, etc.
The Caravan, explained Antonella Visentin – GLAM’s coordinator – will cross Italy during 2015 from Sicily to Lombardy, touching territories particularly affected by the crisis of labour and environment, to meet both churches and representatives of institutions and civil society, giving a sign of Christian witness in a fragmented contest where social responsibility is mainly loaded on the shoulders of individuals.
The Caravan will provide at each stage the presence of two persons of the organizing committee, two representatives of the previous region and two of the following one.
** The 17th of February is a celebration day for Italian Protestants: they remember in fact the grant of civil rights, in 1848, by King Carlo Alberto of Savoy. Since then Waldensians continue the tradition of the ‘Bonfire of freedom”. Also this year many were lightened not only in the historical places of the Waldensians’ presence, but wherever Protestants are present throughout the Peninsula. Many the events – as usual – organized for the occasion, intertwined with the Week of Freedom that Italian Protestants celebrate each year at the turn of the 17th of February.
** The national campaign against the administrative detention of migrants “LasciateCIEntrare” in a press release of February 4th denounced the resumption of summary repatriations towards Nigeria. Altough they were formally suspended in August 2014 because of the Ebola emergency, repatriations never ceased. In particular the press release makes known the story of a Nigerian citizen who, while waiting to receive a response to his application for asylum, on the 6th of January was transferred from Vicenza to the Immigration Center (CIE) of Rome and from there deported on January 29, along with other refugees, back to his Country.
** The 2015 activities of the project “The hospital of solidarity” were presented on the 3rd of February at the Lutheran Church of Naples. This is a project of the Evangelical Foundation ‘Betania’ which provides care services and assistance to disadvantaged persons. Luciano Cirica, vice president of ‘Betania’ explained that “this year the offer will be further expanded both to meet the growing requests of help and to guarantee high quality services also to those who cannot afford them. In the last months the hospital offered hundreds of medical services specially to women, premature infants, young people and migrants thanks to the help of medical doctors, nurses and health workers of the Evangelical Hospital ‘Villa Betania’ of Ponticelli (Naples)”.
** The XVII edition of “Seeds of peace” – the historical project promoted by the magazine “Confronti” with the support of the 8 per thousand funds of the Waldensian and Methodist Churches – took place from February 22 to March 1. A delegation of six witnesses – daily committed to the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian Territories – were in Italy to share with several audiences their experiences and reflections on peace and conflict. The project was presented during a Press Conference at the Chamber of Deputies on Wednesday 25. The complete program is available here.