Many living testimonies of the Scalabrinian charism


On the occasion of the canonization of John Baptist Scalabrini, on October 9 in St. Peter's Square, stories of extraordinary commitment to the reception and integration of immigrants arise throughout the world. The fruits of the example of the founding bishop of the congregations of San Carlos Borromeo emerge in the words of the Superior, Sister Neusa de Fátima Mariano, and in the stories of Sister Lina Guzzo

The relevance and essentiality of the charism of the Congregations of the Missionaries of Saint Charles Borromeo and of the Missionary Sisters of Saint Charles Borromeo Scalabrinians emerged this morning at the press conference held at the Maria Bambina Institute in Rome. Among the participants, the postulator Father Graziano Battistella clarified that the miracle recognized by Scalabrini referred to the healing of a nun sick with cancer. The Pope - he reminded him - agreed to recognize sanctity even in the presence of a single miracle, pointing the way to the dispensation for the second miracle, and consulting all the cardinals. Monsignor Benoni Ambarus, Secretary of the Episcopal Commission for Migration of the Italian Episcopal Conference, highlighted the appreciation of the Italian bishops for the missionary commitment behind the Scalibrian charism and the importance of the happy ongoing collaboration. Monsignor Pierpaolo Felicolo, Director General of the Fundación Migrantes, then intervened. Together with Father Leonir Chiarello, Superior General of the Scalabrinian Missionaries of Saint Charles Borromeo, he explained how the presence of the Scalabrinians focuses in particular on the second phase of reception: after the emergency arrival, a broader commitment is important. Missionary Giulia Civitelli recalled the experience of secular missionaries.

A more relevant charisma than ever

Giovanni Battista Scalabrini, founding bishop of the congregations of the missionaries and of the Sisters of Saint Charles Borromeo, was proclaimed blessed by Pope John Paul II on November 9, 1997 and will be canonized in a ceremony in Saint Peter's next Sunday, November 9. october. Deeply affected by the tragedy of so many Italians forced to emigrate to the United States and South America at the end of the 19th century, he did not remain indifferent: he raised awareness in society and sent his missionaries to help and support the emigrants in the ports, on the ships and their arrival in new countries. His canonization helps us understand how the Christian community must continue to commit itself today to the reception and integration of migrants with a view to a more fraternal society.

A beacon for those who look at suffering humanity

Therefore, he is considered a father to all immigrants and refugees. This is how Sister Neusa de Fátima Mariano, superior of the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of San Carlos Borromeo Scalabriniano, recalls it: "More than a century after the death of John Baptist Scalabrini - Sister Neusa underlines - his life continues to be a beacon for who in the world serve the most suffering humanity: the migrants". After founding the Missionaries of Saint Charles Borromeo in 1887," he explains, "the Bishop of Piacenza knew that his work was incomplete, especially in South America, without the help of the Sisters." Supported by Blessed Assunta Marchetti and the Servant of God Father Giuseppe Marchetti, in 1895 founded the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Saint Charles Borromeo, recognizing the great value that consecrated women could bring to their missionary project in the world.

The female face of the mission

We are the expression of the feminine face of the Scalabrinian charism addressed to emigrants, says Sister Neusa. "We have a special sensitivity, we feel and understand all the difficulties that a woman can experience on the migratory journey, a journey that makes women and children more fragile and vulnerable." "I was born in Brazil," he says, "and I worked for many years with children and young people, in Christian formation; I was a catechist in my parish and I belonged to youth groups, but there was a desire in my heart to do something bigger and give all my life in the service of God. I have researched about the congregations in the Sao Paulo area and I have been very impressed by the Scalabrinian sisters. I met them and they were very happy and welcoming. I felt that this was the place where the Lord was calling me. More Later, I came to know the spirituality of Scalabrini, his ability to see the Lord in the emigrants and to work for their good. Thus I became a Scalabrinian sister at the age of 21. One of my first missions was in the outskirts of São Paulo, in the favelas. We met the immigrants and I was surprised by their hope, their courage and their trust in the Lord for a better life. They opened their houses and simply offered what they had, despite their situation of poverty. They told us - continue or Sister Neusa- their story, the suffering they experienced on the path of migration. As a Scalabrinian nun, it was always important to take the first step towards the other, to listen to him, to enter into deep communion with his reality; I was happy when I saw people coming out of her isolation, out of her sadness."

A global commitment

"We are present in 27 countries with more than 100 missions animated by the spirituality of Scalabrini", recalls the Superior, and underlines: "In each person we see a child of God and we try to live the mystery of the Incarnation in the various migratory realities ". Our choice is to address refugee women and children in a special way, to be migrants with migrants, fellow travelers."

A welcoming home in Rome

The house inaugurated in Rome is called Chaire Gynai, which means "Welcome, woman" in Greek. Superior Sister Neusa says that in the embrace of a mother who thanked her, she felt the purpose of the mission: "we offer them the possibility of a life that recognizes their dignity and opens paths to new opportunities." The Scalabrinian charism in the world is witnessed through socio-pastoral actions, it is manifested in solidarity with those who live the drama of migration, everything aims to create communion, to be sisters with, for and among migrants and refugees. In recent years, the specific project of the "Itinerant Service" has been born, present in border places, where there is more suffering: in Roraima in Brazil, on the northern and southern border of Mexico, in Ventimiglia in Italy and in Pemba in Mozambique. ".

Know how to listen and change

"Migration arrives," Sister Neusa points out, "and brings with it structural changes: welcoming migrants is having that ability to listen. Opening up to others implies sharing our space, our cities, but also knowing how to value the beauty that each one brings. Enter in relation to emigrants it also means knowing how to be moved by pain, as Scalabrini did when he saw the Italian emigrants leave for America. Women", she adds, "are much more sensitive to the suffering of others. Starting from our way of being women , we try to make Scalabrinian creativity flourish again with migrants and refugees who do not find answers to their problems, to their wounds, and we try to accompany them on their journey as Jesus does, the good Samaritan.The pain of migrants also becomes ours pain, just as his hope is our hope. This is what Scalabrini taught us."

The value of canonization

"Scalabrini was in love with the mystery of the Incarnation of God - Sister Neusa clarifies - and he continually contemplated the Son of God who became man to reveal the love of the Father and give him renewed humanity. He was a man totally of God and for God. He treasured the culture of the emigrants, the wealth they brought with them, to the point of saying: "In the emigrant I see the Lord". We have received this legacy, a charism for today's time. When we read his writings, we realize that are still relevant today. He was also a man of action: he knew how to involve the Church, the State, the laity, the missionaries, us, the Scalabrinian sisters, so that everyone could do their part. It is beautiful that his canonization comes at this very strong moment of migration. It is an important sign that the Pope wants to give to the whole Church and to all humanity, a Church that welcomes and walks with migrants and refugees".

Sister Lina Guzzo, a 57-year-old Scalabrinian missionary, now lives in Messina helping the communities of Sri Lanka and the Philippines to integrate. His story begins by reaffirming that "every migrant is a child of God": "It is 2016", relates Sister Lina, "when two brothers, Ahmed and Fadil (fictitious names), arrive at the port of Reggio Calabria, after being rescued in the sea ​​by the Coast Guard. Fadil is only 15 years old, he has been beaten, he has cuts and bruises all over his body and he has to be taken to the hospital, but he doesn't want to. He knows that if he leaves his older brother now, he will be transferred to who knows where and he will never see him again. It is in this moment of desperation that Fadil meets Sister Lina Guzzo, a Scalabrinian missionary. "Don't worry, I will go to the hospital with you," says Sister Lina. Throughout the night, Fadil cries in despair, while Sister Lina repeatedly calls the coastguard to make sure Ahmed is not transferred to a facility.

"My arms were marked by his nails, he was holding me and telling me not to move away," recalls Sister Lina. In the morning, Fadil was discharged and Sister Lina accompanied him to the port. Ahmed did not move from there all night. The two brothers hug, kiss, cry with joy. "Everyone should have witnessed that moment, even some politicians. These boys had faced abandonment by their family, crossing the desert, imprisonment in Libya, violence, death at sea of ​​their companions and then, once it seemed that they had achieved it, to the fear of never seeing each other again. All of humanity was in that embrace, there was all the hope of a new life. Sometimes it is enough to have respect for the pain of others. Under that skin of another color, there is the great gift of a life received, there are the children of God", says Sr. Lina, who as a missionary has spent 57 years at the side of those who emigrate: from Italians in Switzerland, to refugees from Kosovo in Albania and African migrants in Portugal and Italy".


Scalabrini distributing food and clothing to the needy.

Without any barrier

"It doesn't matter if they are Catholic or Muslim or Hindu", Sister Lina reiterates, "they have a faith, they believe in someone above them who is present in their lives. We have received from the Bishop and Saint John Baptist Scalabrini the charism of serving migrants, we must know humanity to be able to accompany it and know that we are truly missionaries with these people".

The experience in Calabria

For years, Sister Lina was "the entertainer of the port of Reggio Calabria". That is what her volunteers called her who, together with her and her other sisters, welcomed the migrants. He tells of this experience: "Up to 900 people disembarked in one day, many were unaccompanied minors. The night before they notified us of their arrival and at dawn we were there loaded with slippers, clothes, brioches, fruit juice. We shook their hands and we asked them about their family. With gestures we understood each other and tried to take away their fear. Often they didn't even know where they were. I spent the day and night with them in the tents or in the hospital." The Hna. Lina remembers a day when she spent among the newly disembarked boys distributing supplies. "One of them looked at me with wide eyes and repeated: 'I'm hungry.' They were thirsty and hungry, but I had just finished the croissants. , don't worry because starting today we eat freely". This phrase has remained like a carved stone in my heart and has made me see how important it is for them to come here, to democratic countries, and build a decent life ".

The most difficult years were those of the war in Kosovo. The Scalabrinian Missionary Sisters welcomed refugees in their house in Albania, in Shkodra: "We sheltered 50 people, 36 were minors. I had to recognize people killed with their heads full of bullets. I witnessed the death of a woman, mother of a little boy, who was shot in the back. When her husband arrived, I thought: "What am I going to do now, my God? But after the discouragement and even the fear", says Sister Lina, "comes the faith, knowing that not everything ends like this: 'There is a God who gives you the strength to continue with your vocation'.

A personal reflection: "I am the vice-postulator for the canonization and I thank Pope Francis for choosing to give the Church a model like Scalabrini. It is a great gift that God gives to the emigrants, to the discarded, to those rejected by the world who need be welcomed and receive the confrontation of faith".


by Fausta Speranza

Vatican News
scalabrinian spirituality 2023


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