Prejudice and Encounter

A big question in Italy at the moment is that of the Romanies and of the Romanians often mistakenly considered as one and the same people. Since Romania is part of the European Union, a great number of Romanians, now European citizens, arrived in Italy, drawn by the hope of finding work. Their arrival has not been accepted very well by many
Italians. The massive arrival at the same time of many Rom nomads who have never been welcome in Italy is considered as a threat to security. They are moved away from the cities and the suburbs and shut into camps similar to ghettoes. It is true that there has been violence and crime has been committed by both the Romanies and Romanians, as well as by other foreign citizens. Often on these occasions, a clever campaign of misinformation has been initiated. This issue was amplified, manipulated and exploited in the run up to the elections in April 2008. Both the Romanies and the Romanians became scapegoats. Unfortunately hatred led to shameful and illegal action - fires in nomad camps, throwing of Molotov cocktails against parked caravans, attempts to lynch. Very few people denounced the authors of such deeds which most of the time were approved of or ignored.

Voices have been raised to defend the rights of the Romanies both in the public sector and in the Italian Church. Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan and Bishop Marchetto who is in charge in the Vatican of the office for Migrants, as well as some religious and lay people have for years worked towards building up the relationship between Romanies and Italians. Groups of volunteers in several cities are involved with primary education programmes for the children and give support to the nomads encouraging them to participate in decisions that concern them.

Barbara Paola,who joined the Community fairly recently and who lives with a group of Romanies from Kossovo in Southern Italy shares her experiences of work:

‘I have lived with the nomads for two years now, and I quickly understood that if I wanted to see the world through the eyes of the gypsy women whose life I share, I had to find a job as similar as possible to theirs.

The experience of the little sisters who introduced me to this world taught me that to go ‘from door to door’ selling our little handicraft products is a way of working which can be understood by the other women. Many try to get a little money selling small things: flowers, handkerchiefs or just begging. In the morning, we leave together by bus. ‘We are going to look’ we say and on the way back, we share the joys and difficulties of our day.

What surprises me is that even when many people look away not to meet my eyes or when they tell me to go away, there is always something beautiful that happens each day. Like a ray of sunshine, someone waits for me and offers me a glass of tea or someone else calls me over and invites me to sit down and rest. Yet another is happy to be able to help me! It happens every day! The women share with us their fatigue, but also the little lights that give them dignity: friends who give them a little change or smile when they meet them.

LetoLeto

I think that my work is a form of begging. Often I just ask for a little offering for a small bag of lavender. Today as yesterday the authorities want to suppress begging, especially the kind that scandalizes, that disturbs, that of having empty hands. The exploitation of children is clearly wrong but to want to completely
ignore beggars who hold out their empty hands is for me like ignoring God who is always searching to meet our gaze.

We believe that the wall of fear and distrust can only fall through mutual knowledge. Italians do come into our camp out of friendship, without carrying anything, without asking for anything,  simply to sit together as friends, and this gives
us so much hope.’