In Florence (Italy) a “Bed and Breakfast” accommodations project. One of the many initiatives launched by the worldwide New Families of the Focolare, to help those in need.
Cesar, an 18-year old from Ghana, was saved just when he was about to drown, after he had drunk water and fuel. On that journey, 72 people were saved while 32 died. Maria, a Nigerian and seven months pregnant, had received a phone call from her father while she was out with her husband and little son. He told them not to return home because the church had been burnt and her mother killed. They escaped with the little they had, and arrived in Libya. They had money for the journey to Italy of just one person, and so only she left. Her husband and little son remained on the other side of the Mediterranean, waiting for another embarkment.
«These are heartbreaking glimpses of life. They remind us of Jesus’s words: “I was a stranger and you shared your home.” We would like to be the arms and heart for each of these refugees.» This is the story of Carla and David of Florence (Italy), who as a family opened their hearts to the welcoming of migrants.
«In summer 2013, we participated with our three kids in the World Youth Day in Brazil. We took the opportunity then to spend some time to do missionary work in Salvador Bahia. It was a strong experience that opened our hearts to the spirit of sharing with those in need. Once we returned home, we decided to dedicate a part of the B&B we run to migrants. In that moment the mission had come to us!
Since then, 756 people have passed through, coming from Syria, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and some countries of Africa. Some stayed only to take refreshments and depart for other European destinations while others remained longer. And in these cases, our relationships became close and very fraternal.
An Eritrean family now on its way to Norway, stayed for two months: he is Muslim while she is Christian, with six children who were left free by their father to choose their religion. When their mother arrived with the youngest son, they were hospitalized for dehydration, after which so also was the father, due to an infection. We remember their joy when we handed them a cell phone so that they could call their relatives to say they were all alive and well. On Sunday we all went to mass together in that tiny Church at the outskirts of Florence where Cardinal Betori was holding a pastoral visit. His whole homily centred on welcoming the homeless. In the end he embraced them and blessed everyone.
Three girls, one from Mali and another from Libya, both Muslims, came together with a young girl who escaped from Nigeria after witnessing the massacre of their parents because they were Christians. A sisterly relationship was created between them and with us, as if between parents and daughters. One Sunday while we were taking a walk, Mersi was very sad because that day on TV there was the news of another massacre in Nigeria. Finally, they received a phone call: their younger sister was able to escape to Libya with her father’s friend. The Libyan girl immediately contacted her family and the child – a Christian – was taken in by them who were Muslims.
Here’s another picture: of Joy and Lorenz, who had seen their father killed because he was a Christian. I, David, as a social worker can get on the bus when refugees arrive. I do this at the risk of contracting diseases, but I know that the first approach is fundamental since it is then that we are able to identify the groups that, in the meantime, have been created among them. I saw that Joy was pregnant, and so I invited them to our centre. Also when the Prefecture moved them to another place, we continued to visit them, and when the baby was born, we brought them a pram and clothes which the New Families of the Focolare had gathered for them. Joy and Lorenz asked us to be little John’s godparents. This family was then sent to Puglia. The parting was strong but the relationship continues. The call us Mom and Dad. When they obtain their stay permit, they want to come to live close to us.»