Seventh-day Adventist Pathfinders in Italy invited a group of Roman Catholic and Muslim teens to join them in a Sabbath afternoon of activities, including the construction of a cardboard house, to underscore the biblical principle of hospitality.
About 140 children and teens gathered on a square in the north Italian city of Cesena for the Adventist-organized Bible Festival, church leaders said. The event ended with a music concert at the local Adventist church.
“At a time when new barriers are raised in Europe almost every day, the message that these children wanted to give is really strong: Instead of walls we have to build houses, that is, places where we are all part of a family,” said Notizie Avventiste, the Adventist news magazine for Italy.
Italy is at the forefront of Europe’s refugee crisis, with its coast guard fishing refugees off flimsy boats and out of the waters of the Mediterranean Sea long before the issue captured the current spotlight. ADRA workers and regular church members in Italy have been providing food, clothing, and shelter to refugees, many of whom fled turmoil in northern Africa, for some time.
But not everyone in Italy is happy about the influx of refugees, and the Bible Festival sought to highlight the biblical mandate of hospitality with the theme, “A Culture of Hospitality.” Among the many verses in the Bible that deal with hospitality, Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares,” and Leviticus 19:34 says, “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (ESV).
Pathfinders from clubs in Cesena and the nearby city of Forli invited young Catholics in Cesena and young Muslims from the local Islamic Cultural Center to participate in nine hands-on activities on Moretti Square on April 9.
“The three Catholic parishes suspended their catechetical programs to experience a day of welcome and hospitality with the boys and girls from the Adventist communities in Cesena and Forlì,” said Giovanni Benini, a local church member and an organizer of the event.
At the start of the afternoon, each child was given a cardboard box to collect the various items that they would use during each of the nine activities.
“At the end of the day, all of the teens, with the help of the organizers, used the boxes to build a house as a symbol of inclusion, welcoming, and sharing,” Benini told Notizie Avventiste.
In the evening, about 250 people gathered at the local Adventist church for a concert of three groups of young musicians: the SaccoMatto school children’s orchestra, the Maderna Conservatory string ensemble, and the Maderna Junior Orchestra.
A Catholic clergyman, a Muslim imam, and an Adventist pastor spoke about the need to follow a path of understanding and mutual respect in Europe, said the Adventist Church’s Inter-European Division, whose territory includes Italy.
Adventists in Cesena, a city of about 100,000 people, organized the Bible Festival in collaboration with the social services of the Adventist Church’s Italian Union, the Adventist Institute of Biblical Culture in Florence, and the Inter-Religious Museum of Bertinoro.