This open letter to the Italian president and prime minister from the Carmelites and Poor Clares of Italy was published on Saturday 13 July in the Italian newspaper ‘Avvenire’. It is an important and prophetic letter which deserves to be read as widely as possible, not only in Italy. We are grateful to Christian Kendall-Daw for providing the following English translation:
We wish to share with you and all the readers of ‘Avvenire’ the open letter which, inspired by the Gospel of Matthew (23.8): ‘You are all brothers’, we decided to send to President Mattarella and to Prime Minister Conte on 11 July 2019, on the feast of St Benedict.
Dear President of the Italian Republic,
Dear Prime Minister,
We are sisters of Poor Clare and Carmelite monasteries, united by the sole desire to express concern about the spread in Italy of feelings of intolerance, rejection and violent discrimination against migrants and refugees who are seeking welcome and protection in our lands. It was not possible for us to contact all Italian monastic houses, but we know that we are in communion with those who share our concerns and our own desire for a more humane society.
With this open letter we would like to give a voice to our migrant brothers and sisters who flee from wars, persecution and famines, those who face endless and inhumane journeys, suffer humiliation and violence of every kind that no one can possibly deny. The stories of survivors and rescuers, the statistics of international institutions who observe migration and reports from journalists all clearly demonstrate the increasingly dramatic situation we face.
We repeat the appeal contained in the ‘Document on Human Fraternity’ signed by Pope Francis and by the Imam of al-Azhar Ahmed al-Tayyeb asking that ‘leaders of the world as well as the architects of international policy and world economy, work strenuously to spread the culture of tolerance and of living together in peace’. In particular ‘in the name of orphans, widows, refugees and exiles from their homes and their countries; of all the victims of wars, persecutions and injustice; of the weak, of those who live in fear, of prisoners of war and those tortured in any part of the world’. We too, therefore, dare to beg you: please protect the lives of migrants!
Through you we ask that government institutions guarantee their dignity, care for their integration and protect them from racism and from a mentality that considers them only as an obstacle to national well-being. Please remember that alongside the many problems and difficulties, there are countless examples of migrants who build friendships, enter the world of work and university, create businesses, engage in trade unions and volunteer work. These riches must not be devalued and we should acknowledge and promote their great potential.
Our simple life as sisters testifies that staying together is challenging and sometimes tiring, but achievable and always constructive. Only the patient art of mutual acceptance can keep us humane and allow us to accept ourselves as we really are. We are also deeply convinced that it is not naive to believe that developing a strong relationship with everyone who is called to live in our society, can only enrich our history and, in the long term, also develop our economic and social situation. It is actually naive to believe that a civilization that closes its doors is destined for a long and happy future. A society that among other things closes the ports for migrants, which as Pope Francis pointed out, actually ‘opens the doors to the boats that prefer to load sophisticated and expensive weapons’. What seems to be lacking today in many political decisions is a wise reading of the past made up of peoples who have themselves migrated and a foresight capable of perceiving for tomorrow the consequences of today’s choices.
Many Italian monasteries, belonging to various orders, are questioning how to contribute tangibly to the reception of refugees, alongside diocesan institutions. Some are already offering space and help. And at the same time, we are trying to listen to their experience to understand their suffering and fear. We wish to place ourselves next to all the poor of our country and, now more than ever, to those who come to Italy and see themselves denied the right of every man and every woman: peace and dignity. Many of us have also intimately experienced their tragedies at first hand. We wish to support those who dedicate time, energy and heart to the defence of refugees and to the fight against all forms of racism, even by simply declaring their opinion.
We thank all those who, because of this, are mocked, hindered and accused. An article of our Italian Constitution says that everyone has ‘the right to freely express their thoughts with speech, writing and any other means of communication’. We wish to dissociate ourselves from every form of the Christian faith that does not translate itself into charity and service. Finally, in communion with the teaching of Pope Francis, and his call for fraternity and solidarity, we wish to follow our consciences as women, we are daughters of God and the sisters of every woman and man on earth, and we wish to publicly express our concern.
We thank you for the attention with which you have read our appeal. We thank you, President Mattarella, for your continuous calls for peace and your confidence in the dialogue that allows, as you said when we celebrated ‘Republic Day’ on the 2nd of June 2019, ‘to overcome conflicts and promote mutual interest in the international community’. We thank you, Prime Minister Conte, for your difficult role as mediator and institutional guarantor within the Government. We sincerely thank you for what you are already doing to support peaceful coexistence and a more welcoming society. We assure you of our prayers for you, for those who work in government institutions, for our country and for Europe, because together we wish to promote what is good for everyone.
Discalced Carmelite Nuns: Sassuolo, Crotone, Parma, Cividino, Venice, Savona, Monte S. Quirico, Arezzo, Bologna, Piacenza, Legnano, Nuoro.
Poor Clares: Lovere, Milan, Fanano, Grottaglie, Padua, Montagnana, Mantua, Urbania, Montone, S. Severino Marche, S. Benedetto del Tronto, Vicoforte, Bra, Sant’Agata Feltria, Roasio, Verona, S. Lucia di Serino, Altamura, Otranto, Capri, Leivi, Alcamo, Bologna, Boves, Sassoferrato, Termini Imerese, Chieti, Pollenza, Osimo, Castelbuono, Porto Viro, Bergamo, Rimini, Manduria, Urbino, Bienno, Scigliano, Sarzana, Caltanissetta, Ferrara, San Marino.
Capuchin Poor Clares: Fiera di Primiero, Naples, Mercatello sul Metauro, Brescia, Citta di Castello.
With thanks to the Carmelite Nuns of Great Britain.