The Vatican has taken in three new Syrian families, some members of which were ISIS prisoners before gaining freedom and fleeing the country.
According to an April 3 Vatican communique, the families – two of whom are Christian – took the place of the families welcomed by the Vatican last year, who with the help of various organizations have now become independent, and have moved out of their Vatican apartments.
The decision to welcome them was made in response to the Pope’s Sept. 6, 2015, appeal for all European parishes, religious communities, monasteries and shrines to house one refugee family. At the time, the Pope said the two Vatican parishes – St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Anne’s parish – would also be hosting one family each.
St. Peter’s Basilica provided an apartment for an Eritrean family, consisting of a mother and her five children.
The family hosted by St. Anne’s parish was a Christian Syrian family, consisting of the parents and two children, who fled from the Syrian capital of Damascus and arrived in Italy the same day Pope Francis made his appeal.
Both families had made their way to Greece, their homes having been bombed, and made it to Italy with the help of the “Humanitarian Corridors" project run by the Sant’Egidio Community and the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy to provide refugees safe passage without risking their lives in the Mediterranean.
Numbering 13 people in total, the new families taking their place arrived at different times: one in February 2016 and two in March of this year.
Of the two families who arrived in March, both suffered “kidnapping and other types of discrimination" because of their Christian faith.
The first family is composed of a mother and her two adolescent children, their grandmother, an aunt and another Syrian woman who lives with them.
The second family consists of a young couple and their newborn daughter, Stella, who was born two weeks ago in the apartment they are now living in.
According to the communique, the mother had been a prisoner of ISIS for “several months," but now, after arriving in Italy, “has again found peace."
The third family, who arrived to Italy in February 2016, is Muslim and consists of parents and their two daughters, the eldest of whom is ill.
However, the family has begun a process of integration in which both children attend school and their mother is enrolled in a graduate course for Intercultural Mediators,entering just a few days ago a program for career training.
To date some 70 families, including those hosted by the Vatican, have arrived to Rome with the help of the Humanitarian Corridors project, totaling 145 people between them.
Apart from the assurance of a warm welcome through various parishes, communities and associations, the families are accompanied after arriving by volunteers, who help them in the integration process, beginning with learning the Italian language.
In addition to the families hosted by the Vatican, an additional 21 Syrian refugees – who came back with the Pope after his 2016 trip to Lesbos – receive economic assistance from the Holy See, and in some cases are hosted by religious or private families.
By Elise Harris