Raoul and Irène are Congolese and are among the families who wrote the Pope’s Stations of the Cross meditations in the Colosseum this Friday, April 15. Refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, they will carry the cross to the fourteenth station.
Jean Charles Putzolu – Vatican City
“When I learned that we and my wife had been chosen to carry the cross of Christ, I wept,” says Raoul Bwalwele. This Good Friday he will be at the Colosseum in Rome with his wife and two children, Riccardo and Federico, both born in Italy. They will carry the cross to the fourteenth station: a logical outcome, in their eyes, after an obstacle-strewn path that Irene and Raoul have each walked on their own side.
Two lives, two ways
Raoul came from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2002 to study in Rome, where he earned a Masters in Social Communication. He also worked for disabled associations and chained “occasional jobs”, before settling down in a restaurant that keeps him busy in the central train station district of the Italian capital. Now financially independent, he was able to enlist the help and support of the Astalli Centre, the Italian branch of the JRS (Jesuit Refugee Service).
For her part, Irène took a much more complicated path. An activist and political opponent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she fled her country after death threats and took to the streets more “classic” migrants. After landing in Libya, the young woman crossed the Mediterranean Sea aboard a makeshift boat that happened to hit the shores of southern Italy in 2012. In Rome, she quickly obtained political refugee status and met Raoul shortly after his arrival.
Irene’s journey was real “Way of the Cross”, at risk of death. As he tells it, Raoul smiles, sometimes even laughs, it’s all behind them. And the difficulties the small family may encounter on a daily basis are relative, they admit, in terms of their own history. “Life should allow us to smile”, says Raoul and adds: “When I met Irène in 2012 and she told me her story, I told myself that I can keep smiling with her.” The couple married in 2016 and now have two children.
The shadows of everyday life
However, the happy family still needs to draw the eyes of others to their skin color on a daily basis, if those words are not inappropriate. “I keep smiling” Raoul explains, as if that smile were a protective cover. In fact, he says he’s rather sorry “the ignorance of others who do not want to understand that the earth is unique, that we are all part of the same human family. White, black, yellow, color doesn’t matter, we’re all brothers.”
Nurture hope of returning to the land
Raoul and Irène feel welcome in the Church and especially by Pope Francis with his constant concern for migrants and refugees. “He fills me with joy” said Raul, “and now that we know he will visit my country, I hope he will bring joy to the faithful in Congo as well.”
Raoul and Irène cherish a dream, like a fifteenth station at the end of their Via Crucis: to return to their country. “But that’s not possible at the moment. There is too much political instability. Congo is a very resource-rich country and, paradoxically, also one of the poorest in the world.” sorry Raoul. His hope is also that Francis’ trip, planned for next July, will provide a new impetus, a fresh start at all levels of society. Irène and he are ready to take the plunge and embark on this journey back to their country, “contribute to building the future”.