Thomas Doran | September 7, 2017
Rome is the epicenter of the Catholic Church, but there is much more to the Eternal City than papal authority and Baroque architecture. It has many of the same problems that cities face the world over. East of the Vatican lies Termini railway station. Here, the train tracks end. So does the hope of the refugee.
Each morning this summer, I have walked beside these tracks to my job at Joel Nafuma Refugee Center. Middle Eastern and African men, lying atop cardboard sleeping mats and beneath ancient aqueducts, line my commute. They watch me as I walk by.
At the center, I teach English in a small classroom beneath St. Paul’s Within the Walls Episcopal Church and converse daily with refugees, most of whom come for the hard-boiled eggs and ping-pong tournaments. Some kneel towards Mecca in the early afternoon. Others gather near a cross made of refugee boat wood salvaged from the Mediterranean. All are searching for work in a country that offers little. The doors close before sundown, and visitors return to their sidewalk dwellings at Termini.
I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, home to the largest South Sudanese refugee population outside Africa. When I was a teenager, my dad took me downtown to talk with people who were living on the streets. In conversation with those on the periphery of my Omaha community, I noticed a deep joy within myself, one that has evolved and enlivened as I’ve explored my interests in college.
Last summer, after finishing my freshman year at Notre Dame, I returned to Omaha to work eight weeks at my local homeless shelter through the Center for Social Concerns. Faces I had seen years earlier with my dad moved me, and I decided to use my opportunities at Notre Dame to go forth and meet other displaced peoples around the globe. During my sophomore year, I visited the United States-Mexico border, Salzburg, Austria, and the Italian island of Lampedusa, where I met many migrants and refugees whose suffering is too often forgotten in our world.
My travels began with a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border over winter break with a group led by Leo Guardado, a Notre Dame doctoral student in theology and peace studies. Our meetings with United States border patrol officers and humanitarians highlighted the week, but none moved me more than the stories of the migrants themselves.