An African migrant gazes out at the Mediterranean Sea in Agrigento, Sicily, in April 2016. Sister Maria Gaczol of the Society of Sacred Heart says the boy was reflecting on his two friends who died at sea on their journey.
A group of 10 sisters from eight different congregations and countries are responding to the urgent call of migrants in three different locations in Sicily. Vicky, one of our Congolese sisters, is working in Agrigento together with a Polish sister, and one from Eritrea, in a centre that welcomes more than 300 women and children.
With new arrivals constantly coming from the sea, the number can reach as many as 700 people. The sisters try to speak with the migrants in their native tongue, listening to them as they share their experiences of poverty, anger and suffering, and praying with those who ask the sisters to do so. They also prepare areas in the centre where the women and children can play and work.
The sisters also help in the Diocesan Caritas Centre, where meals are distributed. In addition, they go out on the different city streets, taking time to meet the immigrants individually. They also help build a positive relationship between the local people and the immigrants.
In another Sicilian village a group of four sisters works in a Welcoming Centre for young people. They also visit the sick in hospital, and in collaboration with the JRS (Jesuit Refugee Service) they also visit people who are in prison. The sisters also visit those people who live on the street or under the bridges of the highway .
After contact with the sisters, a group of women involved in prostitution have started following religion classes! A spirit of dialogue and listening in a simple and humble way are the two main tools of contact. The different languages which are useful for communication with the migrants are: English, French, Arabic, and Swahili.
One of the hopes and plans of the sisters for the future is to promote new inter-congregational projects in the world .
Pope Francis asks us to create areas where evangelical values such as fraternity, welcoming of diversity, and reciprocal love may thrive. He has reminded us that Jesus’ last words were, “Go out to the whole world; proclaim the gospel to all creation” (Mk16,15). This is what the sisters are trying to do.
Lavoie is a Missionary Sister of Our Lady of Africa.