Here we were at Angelina’s after all: all these well-dressed people […] who were here only for… well, for the significance of the place itself—belonging to a certain world, with its beliefs, its codes, its projects, its history, and so on. It’s symbolic. When you go to have tea chez Angelina, you are in France […]. How will little Théo [an adopted child] manage? He spent the first months of his life in a fishing village in Thailand, in an Eastern world dominated by its own values and emotions […]. And now here he is in France, at Angelina’s, suddenly immersed in a different culture without any time to adjust, with a social position that has changed in every possible way […] anger and frustration come […] from the feeling that you have no culture, because you’ve been torn between cultures, between incompatible symbols. How can you exist if you don’t know where you are? What do you do if your culture will always be that of a Thai fishing village and of Parisian grands bourgeois at the same time? Or if you’re the son of immigrants but also the citizen of an old, conservative nation?
(Muriel Barbery, “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”)
Among the apostolates that the formation team proposed to us novices for this year there is a re-entry: the after-school program at the CSR (Centro Storico Ragazzi – Kids of the Old City Centre), a daily oratory – which last month completed its first 10 years of activity – made up of different ecclesiastical realities of the historic centre of Genoa and led by the Fathers of the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri. An experience which is a bit different from the others because it is not a directly “religious” or “catechetical” apostolate, if not for the fact that it is the Genoan Church, in its various expressions, that proposes it to the kids of the historic center.
The structure of the afternoon is very simple: the kids are welcomed in via Lomellini and we head off (divided according to school classes: elementary, middle and upper school) to different locations, spread throughout the vicariate of the historic centre (La Maddalena, via Pre ‘, San Siro, Le Vigne); in the various “stations”, waiting for the kids, there would already be volunteers to help them in the afternoon with their homework or to give them ‘repeat’ lessons on some particular school subject; then time for play and/or arts & crafts and a snack; finally, a brief concluding prayer/reflection, which usually takes its points of inspiration from the afternoon spent together and in which the majority of children and young people (even non-Catholics) participate.
Almost all the children of the CSR are immigrant children or children – born in Italy – of immigrant families settled here for more or less time. The origins are as diverse as possible and come from all corners of the globe. They range from several Latin American countries to the Philippines, passing through many African and Asian nations. It goes without saying that the majority of children are born in or come from cultural and religious traditions other than the western Christian one. On the other hand, in some cases, if we had to close our eyes and stop to just hear their voice, it would be impossible to determine their origin, given the excellent Italian and the perfect Ligurian intonation, with a strong Genoan cadence. Others, instead, due their language reveal their different “origins”, even if to speak of origins in a merely geographic sense is completely reductive if not misleading, given that many were born in Italy or arrived here very young.
What is striking about the CSR, however, is the ability to create a family in diversity: the kids find themselves in an environment where they spend the whole afternoon, five days a week, with animators, friends and companions of dizzying variety but who form in fact their family context for half of their day. Considering the time they spend together, rather than talking about friends, we should talk about family members. To paraphrase Paul, “there is neither Italian nor Peruvian, Chinese or African, Sri Lankan or Filipino”: at the CSR there are only people, names and faces. And all can be what they are without finding themselves constrained by and restricted to divisive labels (“the Italians”, “the Filipinos”, etc.) or opposing categories and pronouns (“the foreigners”, “the immigrants”, “us and them”, etc.).
The main strength of the CSR’s proposal lies in the fact that social integration is not realised via intellectual or abstract projects but in the concrete daily sharing of times and spaces with children: social integration is a goal pursued by helping personal integration, thanks to the knowledge of their life and their history.
At the CSR, everyone can be themselves in their own complexity and write, as did one of the older ones, long ago, in a poetic composition: “…I come from my grandmother, I come from Peru, I come from my grandfather, who taught me how to play chess, I come from the Centro Storico Ragazzi, I come from Genoa…”