Paola Schellenbaum to provide updates on refugees and integration efforts
by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVLLE – Paola Schellenbaum is a trained cultural anthropologist in Italy and abroad. Her work includes research and training on intercultural education and integration. This fall, she will be one of 16 individuals who will visit Presbyterian churches, mid councils and other institutions as part of the International Peacemakers initiative, sponsored by the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program.
“Two main issues that have been discussed in Italy over the years involves different family models, including same-sex marriage, and immigrant and refugee accommodation and integration,” she said. “These are long-term problems that can become long-term opportunities when addressed along the lines of evangelical witnessing in the society at large, both at the national and European/international level.”
A member of the Waldensian Church-Union of Methodist and Waldensian churches, she serves as a member of the National Commission on Families. The commission has been revising a document on marriage, including the blessing of couples (same-sex and unmarried) as well as intergenerational transmission of faith.
“We worked for five years, developing materials in order to facilitate debate and reflection in the congregations,” she said. “In the last two years, I visited congregations from north to south. We also tried to organize seminars and meetings in order to promote a reflection within society and we went through Synodal debate while accepting a liturgy for same-sex couples blessing.”
This year, Schellenbaum says the commission will discuss a new document on the different ways of living and experiencing family life in faith. “I’m looking forward to that discussion because it has been a vital process of witnessing God’s love,” she said.
Waldensians and Methodists in Italy are members of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy, which is promoting “Humanitarian Corridors and Mediterranean Hope Projects from Lebanon, Morocco and Ethiopia; as well as safe passages to Italy for asylum-seekers and vulnerable migrants, especially families.
“According to official figures, from the beginning of this year, more than 76,000 migrants arrived to the Italian harbors. That’s 13 percent more than last year,” said Schellenbaum. “It is predicted that Italy will register more than 200,000 arrivals this year compared to 181,000 in 2016.”
Schellenbaum says unaccompanied minors make up 10,000 of those coming to the country, adding that the Italian Coast Guard has rescued nearly 90,000.
“Italy is facing a tremendous challenge to accommodate the number of people, who must stay for a long time because of the legal process,” she said. “To be effective in our ministry to migrants, we need to halt the waves of nationalistic xenophobia poisoning our political debate. To be strong in this action, we need the European support as well as the support of our church partners in Europe.”
Schellenbaum will be sharing the struggles facing asylum-seekers during her visit to the U.S. this fall.
Since 1984, more than 300 International Peacemakers from as many as 57 countries have been hosted by 160 Presbyterian organizations. The visits will take place between Sept. 22 and Oct. 16. Schellenbaum still has availability in her schedule from Oct. 9–16, according to Carl Horton, coordinator for the Peacemaking Program. Click here for more information about this year’s group.
The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program is made possible by gifts to the Peace and Global Witness Offering.
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