Welcoming the Stranger
This summer, an image went viral in Italy. It was a photograph of three Italian grandmothers holding
migrant children from Africa on their laps. Reporting for the online religion website Aleteia, Dolors
Massot wrote, “They are three Italian grandmothers named Nicolina, Vincenza, and Maria, and they
surely never imagined they’d become famous on the social networks in their country. Yet, today they
have, thanks to a simple act of love.”
These three grandmothers live in Campoli del Monte Taburno, a town in southern Italy where there is a welcoming center for migrants. Soon after the photo was posted to social media, responses began
pouring in from all over Italy. One person referenced the dangers migrants from Africa face on one of the deadliest migratory routes in the world, writing, “I see that the world is still able to show humanity: grandmothers who act like grandmothers for children at a welcoming center. Above all today, when 150 people probably lost their life at sea, it heals my heart.”
“This is the Italy I love,” someone else said. “This is my land!!! Solidarity, but above all, Love.” And a grandson of one of the grandmothers responded, saying, “To think that 37 years ago, I was on that same lap, wrapped in that same smile, and now miles away and a few years older, I’m very happy to be able to share the same emotions with a child I don’t know, but who deserves it all and more.”
In a time when migration has become so politically polarizing, this is a beautiful story to remind us of the humanity at the heart of issues of immigration. It’s important to remember the way in which we are called to relate to people on an individual basis, and recognizing the dignity of each individual is a great starting point for addressing such issues. In a recent story for Aleteia, Alicia Ambrosia tells of how one woman is changing the lives of immigrants in Vancouver, Canada. Her name is Trixie Ling, and she is the founder of Flavours of Hope, an organization that enables immigrants to find work preparing food from their country of origin through pop up dinners and participation in a summer market.
An immigrant to Canada who was born in Taiwan, Ling understands how isolated women can feel when they come to a new country. “Cooking overcomes that,” she said. “It’s doing something together, and cooking and eating are universal experiences.” Venezuelan refugee Maria Alejandra Reyes is a perfect example of the success of Ling’s mission. Reyes became a cook for Flavours of Hope and it broadened her community, providing opportunities for her to practice her English and improve her confidence so that she could apply for additional employment.
As a cook for Flavours of Hope, Reyes specializes in hallacas and tequenos, traditional Venezuelan dishes. She says of the experience that it “feels like...family eating together.” Talking about the community she has found there, she says, “I count on people and they count on me. That is very important.”
The stories of both Ling and the now famous grandmothers of Italy send a powerful message about God’s call to welcome the stranger in our midst. It’s important for us all to look beyond the politics of immigration and to recognize the humanity of those whom God has sent to us and to our communities. By doing this, we join with other courageous people in setting an example and building a society based on mercy and love.
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