Giada Aquilino - Vatican City
Not even the pandemic has succeeded in stopping them. The volunteers of the Laudato si' Community of Stupinigi, in the metropolitan area of Turin, have received even more motivation from the Covid emergency. They have rolled up their sleeves and carried on, despite the difficulties, with their "Forno solidale - Impastiamo umanità" (Solidarity Bakery - Let's ‘knead’ humanity) project, baking bread in their wood-burning oven, using flours made from ancient grains and zero-kilometre produce, and distributing it free of charge to the families most affected by the crisis. The community in Stupinigi, in the shadow of the eighteenth-century Savoy residence for hunting and festivals built according to a design by Filippo Juvarra, is one of more than sixty Laudato si' Communities founded by Bishop Domenico Pompili of Rieti, Italy, and Carlo Petrini, founder of the SlowFood Movement. They work in the spirit of Pope Francis' 2015 encyclical as core realities of community life, committed to promoting themes of integral ecology through activities and concrete outreach for a more sustainable society.
Relationships marked by closeness and warmth
"There are around 30 of us, a very diverse group from the point of view of age, some are older, but also the young and very young," Alessandro Azzolina, coordinator of the Laudato si' Community of Stupinigi, explains to Vatican News.
"Since 2018 we have been trying to make our own”, he underscores, “the principles expressed by the encyclical on care for our common home and, as the Laudato si' Community of Stupinigi, precisely because we are in a peripheral area on the outskirts of Turin. We try to assist especially in the field of integral ecology and the need to engage in social outreach. We live in an area particularly hit by the economic crisis, which also affects the community and relationships. Therefore, we wish to develop a social outreach through ecology and environmental protection". The goal becomes one where an "ecology of daily life" made up of "close and warm relationships", as expressed by Pope Francis himself in Laudato si', where "the limitations of the environment are compensated by the interior of each person who feels they are part of a network of solidarity and belonging. “In this way, any place can turn from being a hell on earth into the setting for a dignified life.” (Laudato si’ 148).
Poverty and unemployment
"We work in the periphery of the city, because Stupinigi”, the coordinator of the local Laudato si' Community explains, “is a hamlet of Nichelino located right on the outskirts of Turin, a working-class city par excellence. In this area we have one of the highest rates of absolute poverty in all of the Piedmont region." Nichelino, Azzolina explains with data in hand, is the second poorest town in the region: the average income is 19 thousand euros per year, just above the town with the lowest, Valenza. The working-class area over the years has been marked by layoffs, redundancies, and a dream of reindustrialization that has often failed in being realized. The coronavirus has worsened the situation. "With the social outreach we carry out as the Laudato si' Community, we serve about 600 families with meals and emergency financial and housing assistance in an area with 50 thousand inhabitants."
In addition to the educational meetings on the environment and its protection, the Piedmontese group carries out various social activities. The first one, taking place before the restrictions caused by the pandemic, is linked to the "preparation at different times of the year of community meals”, Azzolina says, “bringing together 100-150 people, meals organized with zero km, organic products that feature a profound respect for the environment, food, the food supply chain, and dedicated to families affected by hunger and economic difficulties. Families are provided with these meals without paying anything except”, he emphasizes, “by offering 'beauty', perhaps bringing a work of art created by them, a song, a poem, a drawing made by a child. There was a couple who brought as a gift a history of their relationship, full of its challenges and complexities, almost like a movie".
The Community Bakery
The second initiative is the community bakery: on Sundays, again in compliance with anti-Covid measures, "we knead local, zero-kilometer organic flours; we have a wood-burning oven that bakes bread for around 200-300 people. After kneading and baking the bread, our volunteers distribute it" to those in need. On their Facebook page, the operators of the Laudato si' Community of Stupinigi speak of a commitment made "with what we have in our hands: water, flour, yeast, fire, wood, our legs to move and eyes to encounter others". The goal we are pursuing, and in part succeeding at, is to involve families themselves both in the production of the bread and in its distribution. We are always looking for a proactive approach and not a welfarist or charitable one," the coordinator explains recalling Laudato si'. Pope Francis' encyclical notes that certain actions cannot always solve "global problems," but he points out that they do confirm "that men and women are still capable of intervening positively" and "for all our limitations, gestures of generosity, solidarity and care cannot but well up within us, since we were made for love" (Laudato si’ 58).
In every context
The experience of the Laudato si' Community, Alessandro adds, " brings together people who may be different, with different backgrounds, but who have a basic common denominator", that "lifestyle" proposed in the Pope’s encyclical (Laudato si’ 111). "Everything is connected, we are all connected to one another," Azzolina reiterates, quoting the Pope. "This is what we need to understand in every context: from the far outskirts of Turin to the large population centers."