David Jacques b.1964
Irish Emigrants Entering Liverpool
Oil on canvas
212 x 350 cm
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
Angelo Tommasi 1858 - 1923
Oil on canvas
262cm x :433cm
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Rome
Peter De Francia (1921‑2012)
The Emigrants 1964-6
Oil paint on canvas
(left hand painting): 1823 x 1065 x 16 mm support
(central painting): 1826 x 1061 x 16 mm support
(right hand painting): 1823 x 1061 x 16 mm frame
Tate Britain, London
There has always been movements of peoples across the globe. The Irish Diaspora
and the Italian Diaspora
after Re-unification in 1870 are probably the two best known in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Their effects are still felt today
De Francia`s triptych was prompted by a memory while travelling around Algeria in 1964. The full commentary is on the Tate website here
As a subject emigration has not greatly gripped art and artists. The Church tried its best to come to grips with the problem of emigration and the associated social and religious evils
However in the face of state encouragement of emigration for economic and political reasons, its efforts although useful could not be said to be all effective
Now emigration still goes on often encouraged by state policy. There are two types: internal and external
Internally there is movement of people within state boundaries from poorer regions to more affluent.
Externally there is state encouragement within regional blocks of states such as the EU under the doctrine of the free movement of labour. When labour markets "overheat", there is a demand for labour from outside the market.
There are of course other reasons: war, fleeing from persecution, famine, natural disaster
But the weakening and breaking of families and communities in which Churches are based has a weakening effect on the Church and the emigrants themselves and their families
In 1905 Blessed Bishop John Baptist Scalabrini (1839–1905) analysed the problem of the Italian Diaspora in a memorandum to Saint Pope Pius X. He wrote:
The Catholic Church is called by its divine apostolate and by its age-old tradition to make its imprint on the great social movement of migration, whose goal is economic recovery and the merging of Christian peoples"
(Giovanni Battista Scalabrini, Memorandum for the constitution of a pontifical commission Pro emigratis catholicis (4 May 1905))
It could have been written today
Now also we have other people on the move: refugees and internally displaced persons, international students, tourists, people who work in the airline and shipping industries, people who are seconded abroad and moved frequently in their employment.
Scalabrini`s analysis of the Italian situation at the beginning of the twentieth century is contained within his celebrated Memorandum
. It has wider application
But it is in his observations written in 1887 of what he saw in the railway station at Milan which bing home to one in concrete and human terms why he was motivated to do something about the social evils that he saw all around him:
One can never walk through Milan railway station again without a profound feeling of sadness
But perhaps one can see similar sights in Victoria Bus station in London?
"In Milan a few years ago, I witnessed a scene that left me with a sense of profound sadness.
As I walked through the station, I saw the vast waiting room, the porticoes at the side and the adjacent piazza filled with three or four hundred people, poorly dressed and separated into various groups. Their faces, bronzed by the sun and marked by premature wrinkles drawn by privation, reflected the turmoil agitating their hearts at that moment. There were old men bent with age and labor, young men in the flower of manhood, women leading or carrying their little ones, boys and girls – all united in a single thought, all heading to a common goal.
They were emigrants.
They belonged to the various provinces of northern Italy and were waiting with trepidation for the train that would take them to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, from where they would embark for the distant Americas where they hoped to find a less hostile destiny, a land less unresponsive to their labors.
They were leaving, poor souls, some sent for by relatives who had preceded them in this voluntary exodus; others, without knowing where they were heading, drawn by that powerful instinct that impels the birds to migrate. They were going to America, where (they had heard many times), there was well paid work for anyone with strong arms and good will.
It was not without tears that they had said good-bye to their native villages, to which so many tender memories still bound them. But they were getting ready to leave their country without regret, for they were familiar with only two of her hateful aspects, military duty and taxes, and because for the disinherited the fatherland is the country that gives them bread, and there, far, far away, they hoped to find bread less scarce even if it meant no less labor.
I left there deeply moved.
A host of melancholy thoughts pressed on my heart. Who knows what accumulation of misfortunes and privations makes so painful a step seem sweet to them, I thought! How many disappointments, how many new sufferings is an uncertain future preparing for them? How many will emerge victorious in the struggle for existence? How many will die amid the turmoil in the cities or the silence of some uninhabited plain? How many, though they find bread for their bodies, will have no bread for their souls, which is just as necessary, and in a totally material ambience lose the faith of their fathers?
Ever since that day, my thoughts have often turned to those unfortunate people, and that scene always reminds me of another, no less desolate, which I have not seen but which it is possible to glimpse in the letters from friends and the reports of travelers. I see the poor wretches landing in a strange land, among people who speak a language they do not understand, easy victims of inhuman exploitation.
I see them wet the unyielding ground with their sweat and their tears, ground that exudes disease-bearing miasmas. I see them, broken by labor, consumed with fever, sigh in vain for their distant fatherland and the old poverty of their native home, finally dying without the consolation of their dear ones, without the word of faith that points out the reward God has promised the good and the forlorn.
And those who win out in the cruel struggle for existence, alas! Isolated, they forget all supernatural concepts, all precepts of Christian morality; day by day they lose all religious sense, for it is not nourished by pious practices; and they allow brute instincts to replace more noble aspirations.
Faced with this lamentable situation, I have often asked myself: How can it be remedied?
And every time I find in the papers some government circular warning the authorities and the public against certain speculators who carry out veritable slave raids of whites to propel these poor wretches, unsuspecting instruments of greed, far from their native land toward a mirage of large and easy profits.
And whenever from letters of friends or travelers’ accounts I see that the pariahs among all emigrants are the Italians, that they do the meanest kinds of work – if indeed there be meanness in work – that the most abandoned and hence the least respected are our own countrymen, that thousands upon thousands of our brothers and sisters live without the protection of their distant motherland, without the comfort of a friendly word, objects of exploitation that often goes unpunished, then I confess that I blush with shame. I feel humiliated as a priest and as an Italian, and I ask myself again: What can be done to help them?
Just a few days ago a distinguished young traveler brought me greetings from several families from the mountains of Piacenza, who are now living in camps on the banks of the Orinoco River: “Tell our Bishop that we are always mindful of his counsels, tell him to pray for us and to send us a priest, because here we live and die like animals . . .!”
That message from my far-off children struck me as a rebuke.
And the question I have often asked myself began to take shape in the following observations I am now publishing, observations I have jotted down just as my heart dictated them.
I ask the Italian clergy, Catholic lay men and women, and all people of good will to give consideration to my observations. Charity, the veritable truce of God, knows no partisanship, and the Blood of Christ makes everyone brothers and sisters in one faith and one hope and makes them debtors to one another."
Sadly Saint Pope Pius X more often known as the "Hammer of the Heretics" rather than the large hearted man he was, vitally concerned in social issues who did develop and push forward the social teaching of the Church
The work of the religious organisations involved in this area has been profound and not properly recognised. These include: the Salesians of St John Bosco
in Argentina, the initiatives of St Frances Xavier Cabrini
, especially in North America, the two religious Congregations founded by Blessed Bishop Giovanni Battista Scalabrini
, the Bonomelli Work in Italy, the St. Raphaels-Verein in Germany and the Society of Christ for Emigrants founded by Card. August Hlond in Poland.