Globalize Misery? Or Love?  What Riace Teaches Us

By Shlomo Maital      

       Lampedusa

                        Riace

 Pope Francis recently captured a bitter world dilemma in just a few words.  We need to transform the globalization of misery, he said, into the globalization of love.  What he meant was, the globalization of misery sends migrants from countries where they are oppressed, persecuted, killed, jailed and tortured, to countries where they have hope for better lives.  The journey is perilous, across tossing seas in tiny boats, and many die on the way. But still they come.  When they do survive, and arrive at places like the Italian island of Lampedusa, they often meet not love but hatred.  Pope Francis believes the migrants should be treated as human beings, with love. 

   In the BBC Program Heart & Soul, John Laurenson visits Riace, Italy, to explore the Globalization of Love, in a small but significant case study.  A report in The Guardian offers further details.

    Riace is a small village in Calabria, Italy,  sited 5 miles inland from the coast for safety from pirates, right at the ‘instep’ of the boot of Italy.  Its mayor Domenico has spent a decade trying to help African migrants. In doing so he has greatly helped his village.  “We need to show it that it has touched us all,” said  Lucano, “but we mustn’t just weep – that is not enough.”

  What Riace does is offer African migrants homes, jobs, and financial aid. The aid comes from the EU.  But it often comes late. So Riace prints its own money, with Gandhi and Martin Luther King on the face, gives it to the migrants, they buy food and shelter, and then, when the EU aid arrives, shopkeepers exchange Riace money for real euros.  Why does Riace welcome migrants when other countries and cities reject them?  Riace’s young people have left.  Industry has gone.  People are not having children.  So the migrants have revived Riace’s economy and social life.  Many of them (some are women from Afghanistan, who fled when the Taliban wanted them to marry off their daughters, at age 12!) learn crafts and revive Riace’s craft industries.  Muslims and Christians get along perfectly and together celebrate the Festival of “Id” (marking the near-sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham).     Riace, in short, has done good, but has also done well for itself.   The sign, shown above, by the way, says, Riace – a Place of Welcome. 

    I was born and raised in Canada.  Canada was built by immigrants, including my parents.  I then moved to Israel. Israel exists because millions of Jewish immigrants came when they faced persecution, or survived the Holocaust and had nowhere to go.  A million immigrants from the former USSR built Israel’s high-tech industry.    

      Why do countries fail to understand that immigrants bring energy and aspiration, seek to do jobs that locals would never touch, and bring vibrant new cultures and customs?   If Europe has stopped having babies, the only alternative to becoming a huge Old Folks’ Home is welcoming migrants. 

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