Thursday, February 18, 2010

No Room for the Roma (3)

No room for the Roma (part 3)

One family are staying here at the Methodist church, glad to be in the warm, with their own cooking facilities, and finally on proper beds.  But the experience has left a lasting loss – the mother (who at age 34 looks more like 54), lost her pregnancy of 6 months just a few days ago; surely the stress and the cold must have been contributing factors.  She is resilient and concerned for her eldest son who is with her, and for the four that remain in Romania with their grandparents.  The Roma are economic migrants, searching for money that they can send home.  Some have been able to find work, but the financial crisis hit them first and so the women continue to beg on the streets.

The culture clash between Italy and Romania is large, for example, the women appear to be far more pro-active than the men (in general, of course), the women dress distinctively, and the people marry many years younger than is the norm here.  Then again, the family stays together if possible, and an extended rather than nuclear family unit seems normal – very similar to traditional Italian life.

The Churches here continue to persuade the State to provide a long-term solution for the Roma.  Even if some of this group go home, or move on, others will come in their place.  Their immigration is legal: as part of the European Union the Roma have the same rights as the British to live here, to search for work, to receive medical attention and to send their children to school.  But many Italians refuse to realise this, feeling themselves to be the first in line for all pan-Europe and international immigration.  I don’t know if, per head of population, their rate of immigration is higher than the UK, but for once, I’m proud to be British, as we seem to be turning the tide of racism and recognising the benefits of a diverse society.

To sound a note of hope, many Methodist/Waldensian churches here are growing as a result of immigration (much like London District Methodist Churches).  One lady from one such church said that the results of church growth and diversity were wonderful to see and experience.  It has not been easy, she said, and sometimes differences of culture still need to be understood and overcome, but the fullness of God’s Kingdom is worth it.

[Editors note: I hope you have enjoyed these guest posts and a glimpse of what goes on overseas. Tomorrow a post from myself about how the churches in the UK are responding to those claiming sanctuary in this country)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

No Room for the Roma (2)

 Today we find out how Churches responded to a marginalised community.
No room for the Roma (pt 2)

Parts of the Protestant Churches, worked hard to provide shelter, food, clothing, blankets.  A team from several churches provided basics and challenged the councils of Sesto Fiorentina and Florence to fulfil their obligations.  Coverage provided on local, national and religious channels was sympathetic, but with a toddler, a 5 month old and a baby of just two weeks as part of the company, it was easy to produce good video of tired, cold people, unrolling their bedding on the church floor.  The Mayors of both towns remained adamant – even saying that the church had created the problem by welcoming people in the first place.  The mind-set seemed to be that it would have been quieter to allow a few to die on the cold streets.  Roma are not vote winners, and no-one wanted to spend their budgets. 

Finally, the region saw sense and promised money to house the people for two weeks.  Then it moderated its message – only if the town council co-operated.  Slowly, through the generosity of the national Methodist and Waldesian churches, and then finally the region, families have been placed into hostels (some run by the Protestant churches), convents, and a few remain on church floors.

Come back tomorrow for the final part, which explores culture clashes and the Kingdom of God.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Methodism and Migration - In Italy

One of the exciting opportunities opened up by all forms of social media, is the way that instant connection with other areas of the world is possible.  While the thrill of receiving a letter marked ‘By Airmail – Par Avon’ will never be surpassed, twitter/facebook updates indicating what is going on can provide a glimpse into someone’s life thousands of miles away.

The Revd Alison Walker, Methodist Mission Partner in Florence, had been posting some most interesting updates and so I have invited her to write them up as a guest post.  The story is covered over three days and provides a fascinating insite into how Methodists are helping create a place of sanctuary for a people marginalised by people and politicians in the picturesque city of Florence

No room for the roma? (pt1)

On Sunday 17th January 2010 a group of about 40 Roma arrived at the Waldensian  church door, looking for shelter.  They had been living, in a group of around 100, in a disused factory in a town close to Florence (Sesto Fiorentina).  Although the mayor of the town had made it known in December that the unofficial camp would be closed down, the police arrived without warning.  The Roma were required to leave immediately and were not allowed to collect their possessions (clothes, bedding, cooking utensils, childrens toys and even medicine were all left behind).  Once the people were out, the bulldozers moved in, pushing to the ground the building and belongings.

Perhaps you imagine Italy to be warm, sunny, blue skies.  But in the middle of winter, the nights are regularly around zero, and the days can be cloudy and damp.  The “comune” (town council) of Sesto Fiorentina had made no arrangements to house the now homeless people.  There is an official Roma camp and the mayor felt that the town was doing enough.

The language used in the immigration debate here in Italy is emotive (think Daily Mail), Roma are described as all being lazy, all begging, all committing crime, all refusing to send their children to school and all incapable of living clean, tidy, responsible lives.  One church member even went as far as saying that the Roma (or gypsies as they are usually called) are not genuine immigrants, but “human parasites” living from the work of others.  His words are shocking, but in the light of the constant barrage of racism in the press, not surprising.  In the same week that the Waldensian Church ended up feeding and housing up to 90 Roma, another Tuscan town had placed signs in some shop windows stating “no Chinese”.  It feels as if this part of Europe has turned to the clock back to the post-Windrush world of the UK, when immigrants might be faced with “No unemployed and no blacks” signs.  This church member is seemingly typical of the population – the Roma in particular are not welcome.  TV Vox Pops all featured people united on one theme “gypsies go home.”

Find out tomorrow how Protestant churches responded to a community marginalised by its locals.


Yesterday was spent among people of great faith, and many different religions, using our bodies and our voices to illustrate our opposition to Aldermaston Nuclear Weapons Establishment which is the UK nuclear 'bomb factory'.

Arriving slightly late at 7.30am we found three people already lying down in the road glued together. As time marched on and it came close to 8.30am numbers had swelled and around 100 people were standing, singing, praying and a few were lying on the ground.

The protesters, who had been standing were corralled by police and a small lane had opened up. After the initial protesters had been removed  I was beginning to wonder if the gate would stay open. Thankfully others leapt onto the road and with two groups of protesters lying in the road, and many more of us standing about we were all shocked when the police called (in effect) retreat and left us, gate shut.

We only truly saw, when an articulated lorry and a couple of cars were turned away, later on that police had declared the gate shut.   We had won.

The day left me with strong emotions.  I went having listed myself as 'unarrestable' yet I soon realised that I was feeling close to joining friends lying down in the road..... next year I think I will reconsider that option.  When Jesus turned over the tables he was tackling the very existence of the traders in the temple.  If I want, and I do, a world free of nuclear weapons, I need to take all the steps I can to ensure we never have the chance to drop that third bomb.

(For a news report of the day see Ekklesia)

Take Care Y'All


Take Care Y'all

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday Song - Cat Stevens

Tomorrow I'm off to Aldermaston to take part in the Mass Blockade.  While not intending to get arrested... this time... I want to be there and say that I don't believe we should be developing nuclear weapons.

The world doesn't need them.  The world can't afford them.  So why waste our resources on them?

(Or as my placard will say - Next Generation of Nuclear Weapons - Don't take the Peace!)

Take Care Y'All


(This sunday is dedicated to all who have ever attend The Drama Studio, Edinburgh, where we all learnt this song!)