Pope Francis visited the Astalli Center in 2013 Pope Francis visited the Astalli Center in 2013 

Pope to Astalli Center: Refugees offer path to living in solidarity

Pope Francis opens a photography exhibition organized by the Jesuit-run Astalli Center for refugees, and urges everyone to rediscover unity in our rich diversity.

By Devin Watkins

The Rome-based Astalli Center is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a photographic exhibition recalling the thousands of migrants and refugees who have passed through the seat of the Italian Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).

The exhibit’s title—“Volti al Futuro” or “Faces toward the Future”—plays on the Italian noun for faces (volti) which as a verb can also mean “directed toward” or “facing”. It is hosted at the Church of St. Andrew on the Quirinal Hill and will be open to the public until 28 November.

Pope Francis opened the exhibition on Tuesday with a message reflecting on the millions of people who have been forced from their homes over the past 40 years.

History in ‘Forty’

The Pope noted that the number forty has deep meaning in Bible, especially the 40 years which the people of Israel spent wandering in the desert before entering the Promised Land.

“Freed from their slavery,” he said, “it took them an entire generation to rebuild themselves as a people, braving many difficulties.”

The last 40 years in our own modern history have not been easy either, said the Pope, and turned his thoughts to the refugees who have passed through the Astalli Center.

“Many of you were forced to flee from conditions similar to those of slavery, which are based on the idea of a human person deprived of their own dignity and treated like an object,” he said.

Flyer for the "Faces toward the Future" photo exhibit
Flyer for the "Faces toward the Future" photo exhibit

Deserts of humanity

Pope Francis pointed out that many refugees have known the terrible cost of war and the pain of seeing one’s land turn to dust and water dry up.

Forced to flee from such suffering, many refugees who have taken to the road have not found true freedom but rather ended up in the “deserts of humanity” marked by indifference.

The Pope lamented that the last 40 years have seen conflicts multiply as nationalism and populism result in nations building walls to keep out migrants.

“However,” he continued,” in these past 40 years and in this desert, there have been many examples of hope which allow us to dream of walking together as a new people ‘towards an ever-wider we’”.

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Freedom in solidarity

The Pope said the many people helped by the Astalli Center—and those who volunteer to assist them—are the faces of hope: “Thousands of people extremely different from one another but united in the desire for a more just world in which dignity and rights are truly for all.”

He said we can look to the future and dream of “living together as a people that is free because it lives solidarity, which knows how to rediscover community in freedom, living as a united-but-not-uniform people, rich in the diversity of many cultures.”

The time has come, said Pope Francis, “for us to live in the Promised Land, a land of solidarity which puts us at the service of each other: it is the time of a common home made of peoples who are brothers and sisters.”

Bridging over the gaps

In conclusion, the Pope said the Astalli Center’s photography exhibit can help build a culture of encounter where bridges are built over divisions.

“The faces of the women and men who make up this exhibit,” he said, “display the desire to be active in the cities in which we live and share life, and protagonists with full citizenship to build a community of solidarity together with many other men and women.”

16 November 2021, 12:06