the tender gravity of kindness

It’s a monthly routine for pubic transportation staff go on strike in Rome. The strikes barely heighten the chaos of an already choked transport network and riders maneuver the inconvenience as easily as Roman motorcycles weave through lanes of traffic.

However, when the sanitation department went on strike last week, the impact felt personal.  One day of no street cleaning and trash collection transformed the charming city center into a maze of sticky and stinking alleyways piled with trash.  Doorways were blocked and public bins overflowed with tourist debris.  Sanitation strikes don’t happen often, but when they do, everyone feels the mess:


My friend, Justin Catanoso, head of the Journalism department at Wake Forest University is in town with an awesome group of budding writers.  Justin has a big heart for the refugee story.  He invited me back this year to kick-off his students’ investigation into the refugee crisis in Rome, even though he knows I tend to hog the podium when I have a captured audience.  This is the second year I’ve turned a 90-minute presentation into a three-hour event.  Thank you for rolling with me, Justin!

My lecture gave context to the refugee crisis but the students gained real understanding the next day when they worked at the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center.  Within days of arriving from the groomed lawns of the North Carolina Triad, the young journalists stepped into a corner of the refugee crisis and met the men who give rise to the wave of history that dominates the news in Europe.  The women skillfully blended among the guests in the center – they cooked lunch, taught an English class, and learned about the challenges of integrating from the men who seek refuge there.  The students’ blog posts reflect an understanding of policy and the personal:  the Dublin regulations that traffic asylum applications in Europe and the emotional bruising refugees endure along their journey to become protected and productive members of their host communities – a dream hard-won in Italy where the economy can’t absorb its own youth.


Singer/Songwriter Emmylou Harris was in Rome this week in preparation for a series of fall concerts to raise awareness of the global refugee crisis and the good work of Jesuit Refugee Services:

I had an insightful conversation with a JRS regional head who oversees refugee camps in Chad.  He says the world knows too little of the more than 300-thousand Sudanese refugees who live there and suffer from famine, reduced aid and undocumented hardships. He’s been doing this job for 18-months and says it’s enormously stressful work.  He travels between camps with military escort and is constantly aware of danger and human suffering. Work trips back to Rome offer temporary relief. I wonder if he felt this particular event, hosted on the roof of an ambassadorial home and overlooking the riches of the eternal city, seemed an incongruous, yet necessary part of his work?



And on Sunday in Rome:

I spotted a doggy in church…



And this is what greeted me as I stepped onto my street to run an errand:


Finally – Prom, a trip home, and a broken wrist: