Migration Gathering, Sicily, March 2019

Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd
European Project

With the ongoing migration discussions still at the top of the European agenda and the need to strengthen collaboration, awareness and learning across OLCGS apostolates in Europe, this Gathering was organised in the frame of the European Project in collaboration with the Province of Italy-Malta (especially the apostolate in Palermo), who hosted the participants with great generosity and warmth.

The Gathering took place in Sicily for 3 days, as a chosen spot for a learning visits (Palermo and Catania), as well as a relevant spot for migration discussions. 5 European Provinces were represented and 10 apostolates. 25 people with experience and expertise on migration got to know in greater depth about the work that each Province is doing in this area, learned from ongoing initiatives and explored communication and networking across apostolates. It was also a great opportunity to discuss the Future of the mission in Europe, highlighting the Italy-Malta Province’s model, because of the “family relation” between Sisters, lay workers, and beneficiaries.

 The Gathering started with a mass in the Palermo Chapel of the Sisters, celebrated by Monsignor Francesco Montenegro, and followed by a warm welcome by Sr. Angela Ricci, Province Leader of Italy-Malta.

During opening remarks, Sr. Angela celebrated everyone in attendance for showing great initiative in convening the gathering, and shared an insightful reflection about the importance of the work in migration. Sr. Angela also encouraged everyone in the Gathering to keep working and helping people suffering violence, human trafficking and the consequences of unsafe migration, especially in the current political context. Sr. Giuliana followed these words and stressed the importance of Sisters giving the example for people living in Italy through the work with migrants, even though there are less Sisters. 

The Gathering took the form of an open space, where 2 speakers gave their perspective about migration: Mons. Montenegro, Bishop of Agrigento and President of the Episcopal Commission for Migration and President of the Foundation Migrantes; and Professor Fulvio Vassallo, lawyer and lecturer on right of asylum and constitutional status of foreigners, and member of the doctoral committee on “Human Rights: Evolution, Protection and Limits” at the Department of Legal Sciences (University of Palermo) and director of Associazione Diritti e Frontiere. Mons. Montenegro provided a very committed and moving overview of the current situation of migrant’s rights in Europe, stressing the need to think about “what Europe are we building”, in a context of increasing numbers of walls. Monsignor also challenged the fear to “the different” and stressed that regardless of nationality, ethnicity, etc., everyone has the right to enjoy a full life.

“Migration is a result of growing injustice in the world, about the difference between North and South, the rich and poor. Working for migrants rights is not about charity, is about justice.” Mons. Montenegro

Prof. Vasallo focused on the human rights violations experienced by migrants on their journeys across Africa to reach Europe; and the ongoing humanitarian emergency and human tragedy of people living in this situation, when they are forced to leave conflict, consequences of climate change, extractivism, etc. Prof. Vasallo also explained the work being done by the association he participates, within a greater network, including the Catholic Church, to prevent these atrocities and contribute to safe migration, according to International Law. Prof. Vasallo emphasised the great role that religious organisations are playing, providing integration services and working with schools to reduce discrimination.

OLCGS apostolates with migrants in Europe

Ivanna Youtchak, European Project Coordinator, explained how the decision of this gathering was taken. In 2018, the European Project was launched with the aim of increasing networking (especially of apostolates involved in anti-trafficking and migration work), strengthening communication, valuing co-responsibility with Mission Partners and encouraging motivational meetings. During 2018, a mapping and consultation was carried out across 13 European countries and recommendations were approved by the European Advisory Committee and Circle of European Provincials, to create the basis to motivate collaboration across apostolates; build a common understanding on apostolates focusing on human trafficking and migration; to enable the apostolates and CEP to consider their expectations for the future (sustainability). This Migration Gathering is part of the implementation of these recommendations.

 Sisters and lay from apostolates working with migrants were given the opportunity to share the expectations about the Gathering and their strategies and work being done across the 5 European Provinces.

Expectations focused mainly on the need to get to know what’s happening in other Provinces and connect with other apostolates. All participants also shared an object or symbol of what represents to them the work with migrants.

Participants presented their apostolates and successful strategies in the work with migrants, on spiritual accompaniment; social empowerment: e.g. safe accommodation, education, language, psychosocial support, life skills, etc. (e.g. Ireland, France, Belgium, Malta, Italy, Portugal, Germany), economic empowerment: e.g. agricultural skills, job-seeking support, micro finance support to enable economic well-being, etc. (e.g. Ireland, Portugal, Belgium); and Political empowerment: e.g. legal aid to access rights such as social protection, legal status, health care, etc. (e.g. Ireland, Malta, Belgium, France). Apostolates are working with migrant men and unaccompanied minors, migrant women and girls’ victims of violence, migrant women in prostitution and victims of trafficking. From presentations, it was evident that migration work involves a wide range of integration supports, focusing on the person’s wellbeing and autonomy, and the accompaniment in paths of resilience. This work is being done in partnership with the governments and/or advocating at local or national levels (e.g. Portugal, Belgium, Italy, Malta). Internationally, at the UN, the Congregation is working in the areas of trafficking, women’s rights and migration. Participants shared stories of what’s working well illustrated by individuals enjoying a better life in the host community.

At night, the group enjoyed a fantastic dinner with food from different African regions, in a trendy restaurant that employs and supports migrants. Unaccompanied minors from the Palermo apostolate also joined the dinner.

Days 2 and 3: visits to the apostolates in Catania and Palermo

Day 2 was spent learning from the apostolates in Catania and Acireale. First stop was at the main office in Catania of Il Nodo Consorzio, once run by Sisters and nowadays handed over to lay people who (in some cases) have worked with the Sisters for over 40 years. The apostolate is still linked to the Congregation, not only by buildings and history, but also by the efforts from both lay and Sisters to keep the Congregation’s charism alive. Apart from administrative activities, this building welcomes unaccompanied minors through emergency accommodation; and has a garden where agricultural skills training for migrants is provided. The Director, Fabrizio Sigona, and his team presented the organisation’s work. Il Nodo welcomes 350 migrants through emergency, medium and longer-term accommodation. It provides integration supports for unaccompanied minors and adults, to increase their autonomy, with a person centred approach and strong emphasis on economic empowerment (job seeking and agricultural skills).

Participants of the gathering enjoyed talking to the boys in the emergency centre and learned about their countries of origin. Afterwards, lunch took place in a building that once upon a time was a Good Shepherd School in Acireale and nowadays is a cooperative for insertion of people in difficulty. Lat stop before coming back to Palermo was an apartment that hosts vulnerable girls (both national and migrants), with several supports in place.

The following morning in Palermo started by saying hello to the most elderly Sisters in the Convent, including Sisters from the Sacred Heart living in community with Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd Sisters. Afterwards the group visited the garden where training in agricultural skills and poultry for migrants take place. The day continued in Sfera Cavallo, a house for women and children victims of violence with a fantastic view to the sea. In the past this house hosted girls in prison “to breath sea air” and nowadays is supporting women and children (both national and migrants) to build a life free of violence. Rosemary, cultural mediator, who is in charge of supporting migrant women to integrate into the new country accompanied us; as well as the lawyer, educators and psychologists working in the house. The last stop was Torreta, a house in the middle of a fantastic landscape, that welcomes migrants in emergency and longer-term accommodation, also with a wide range of supports. The group enjoyed the welcome given by the migrant boys playing drums and a superb lunch “Sicilian Style and amounts”. The Mayor and the President of the Assembly of Torreta also joined the meeting and expressed touching words about the work that the Sisters do with migrants, stressing the pride of being part of this work. The Mayor expressed that this work is a testimony in our times of good collaboration to bring new light in history, a new view about migration.

Both apostolates are a great testimony in the Italian context, where the situation for migrants is getting progressively more difficult and Sisters in collaboration with lay are doing fantastic work for migrants to enjoy a life with dignity in their new country.

Conclusions: impressions and reflections

There was a continuous atmosphere during the 3 days of enthusiasm and learning. “We (Sisters with lay) still have so much to do, we are not dead”, said one of the Sisters of the group. 

Final reflections of the 3 days focused on the 2 apostolates visited and how these are working towards the future, with the same charism (feeling Sta. Ma. Euphrasia’s spirit), and a “family approach” (including Sisters, lay and beneficiaries). There was an agreement between Sr. Giuliana and lay people working in Palermo about how building this future and keeping the charism alive takes time and hard work from both lay and Sisters. However, it is very important to create this community to continue this very relevant work for the people in most difficulty, even when there is less Sisters with the energy to keep the work going as it used to be some time ago. There was a general enthusiasm about the possibility towards working for the future and to bring this experience to each Province.



















Report by European Project Coordinator, Ivanna Youtchak. Euro.project@rgs.ie