human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

Il coraggio non trema

One year after a devastating earthquake wiped out several villages in the Apenine region in Italy, Caritas remembers the victims and continues supporting the efforts of the survivors to rebuild their community. Caritas Europa’s Secretary General, Jorge Nuño Mayer, visited the area a few months after the quake and witnessed Caritas’ contributions to the reconstruction work on-site. Below, his blog entry from that visit.

It’s a sunny winter day. We are waiting close to the road beside some containers: it is the bar. On the other side of the road a highly damaged house. Uphill we see drawn on the blue sky the castle and the remainings of Arquata del Tronto. The village is in ruins after the earthquake of last 24th of August that hit the central Apennine Mountains in Italy and devastated many villages. Unfortunately after the first earthquake, hundreds of smaller quakes continued the destruction of houses and people’s hopes to return.

There we are: the bishop of Ascoli Piceno Msgr. Giovanni D’Ercole, a thin man whose presence speaks both about pain and determination, the director of de diocesan Caritas, two diocesan priests, Paolo and Don Andrea from Caritas Italiana, and the colleagues from the fire brigade . We take a coffee standing in this bar of Arquata del Tronto that could reopen in these precarious conditions with the support of the diocesan Caritas of Ascoli Piceno. The role of a bar in providing space for the community, strengthening social cohesion and bringing hope should not be underestimated. I receive a present from the bar keeper’s family: a t-shirt with the slogan: il coraggio non trema! Courage doesn’t tremble.

The first visit, geography of hope: the construction site of the new community centre beside the ruins of the destroyed church. It is the first construction that starts after the earthquake.  The diocese received the construction permit only two weeks ago, six months after the earthquake. Why did it take so long? Administrative complexity? Geological studies ongoing? Nobody knows. But it makes hope to come back more difficult. For this reason the vision of the bishop to start building a community centre is so important. This building symbolises the rebirth of a village and county, a place where people can meet for togetherness, social and cultural activities, where visitors and volunteers can stay. It is the epicentre of a social movement for the reconstruction of houses, villages and social networks. This community centre is only the first step in a wider concept that includes also a vocational training centre, the promotion of socio-economic activities and partnership with the outer world. The support that came and will come from sister Caritas organisation in Europe and the world will be concentrated in this diocese and its projects.

In contrast was the geography of pain and suffering: Arquata del Tronto, Pescara del Tronto and  Capodaqua. All of them were flourishing and beautiful mountain villages, now nothing more than an expanse of ruins. As we walk, the bishop explains that he came to Arquata del Tronto already during the night of the earthquake. He recalls the crying people, the broken bodies lying between the ruins, dead children that he covered with a blanket, the playground that became the place where the bodies were collected.  A cattle farmer comes to speak with him; the bales of hay are stored on open air because he hasn’t received the permission to build a roof. Rain and snow falling on the fodder aren’t good. We visit the cemetery, also partially destroyed. A man who lost 6 relatives in the earthquake comes to the bishop and says: “you from the Church and Caritas, you must do something to bring back dignity, we can’t wait longer for the administration to fulfil their promises”. Church and Caritas are a last stronghold for hope and dignity. I can sense the responsibility when the bishop speaks.  I take pictures of the streets and the ruins. Two days later I see them on the computer screen and compare them with the older pictures from the street view function in google maps. I’m again shocked about the destruction. Geography of pain and suffering.

I often say that in Caritas we are professionals of hope. Later in Ascoli, around a simple and tasty lunch, we discuss about projects, about involving the inhabitants in the rebuilding process, about participation, about activities that are already being done –like supporting small enterprises to restart their activity-, about animating (it comes from “anima”, soul, bringing back the soul to) the people, about the support received from other Italian diocesan Caritas and European Caritas organisations.

Money is necessary to rebuild community infrastructure and houses but also human support is crucial to rebuild the scars in the souls and the social fabric of this region.

Caritas is present with the affected communities in the Apennine Mountains. People know it and expect a lot from us. The long term solidarity and the commitment from Caritas sister organisations in Italy, Europe and the world is still very important and needed.

In this day visit to the earthquake region I learned a lot about resilience, leadership, listening to the people, and about commitment for and with them …hope. Il coraggio non trema!

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Jorge Nuño Mayer

Former Secretary General
Caritas Europa