Italy: The Catholic Church theology of helping immigrants

Italy: The Catholic Church theology of helping immigrants

Via LA Times:

Visually speaking, the John Paul II Canteen is more IKEA cafe than soup kitchen. Tucked away in a pleasant hillside neighborhood in Rome, it has clean lines, attractive furniture, track lighting and framed photographs, making it a welcome oasis for the immigrants who stream in daily from shelters, homeless camps and overcrowded apartments.

Strolling down the cafeteria line on a recent day, canteen coordinator Maurizio deStefano boasted about the quality of the free food, which today included farfalle pasta and meatballs, spinach, boiled eggs, cheese, bread and apples.

"The thing is," he said, "there are so many Muslims that the menu often doesn't have pork on it."

This article was prepared by the Islam in Europe blog -

That may be sacrilege in some Italian culinary circles — no prosciutto? no spaghetti alla carbonara? — but it's hardly unexpected, considering Muslims are the largest group of immigrants in Italy. Still, as the name suggests, the John Paul II Canteen is run by Roman Catholics, not Muslims. Therein lies an interesting dynamic.

In Europe, as in the United States, the Roman Catholic Church has assumed a leading role as a protector of, and advocate for, immigrants. But whereas the largest bloc of migrants to the United States are Catholic, the majority of European immigrants are Muslim.


"For the church, the perspective is … the right of the human person to be treated with dignity," said Father Federico Lombardi, the chief Vatican spokesman. "It is a general principle; it's not just a religious principle. It is more profound."

European nationalists, Catholics among them, worry about the Islamicization of Europe, but the Vatican itself has been steadfast in its support for immigrants. If anything, Vatican officials see the growing secularization of Europe as a greater threat.


"It's a theological conviction," said Luigi Accattoli, a veteran Vatican correspondent for the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

"But," he added, "there's also a very modern reason. It's due to the strong convictions that [ Pope] John Paul II had on this subject, and this was due to his experience as a Pole. The Poles immigrated all over the world, and the Poles were political refugees who were escaping communism. And so John Paul II formulated a kind of right to immigration, and he did it very forcefully."


There are those who believe the church could reap some benefits in showing kindness to Muslim immigrants in Europe.

For one, Pope Benedict XVI has spoken out recently about his concern for the treatment of Christians in predominantly Muslim countries. By treating Muslims well in Europe, one line of thinking goes, the church could influence the way Catholics are treated in the Mideast and elsewhere.


Some European Catholics also suggest that the presence of so many Muslims, who are more visible in their faith than others in Europe, might, in effect, shock non-practicing Catholics back to their faith.


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