Religious, Ethnic Diversity Increasing With Growing Presence of Immigrants

June 27, 2004

Source: The New York Times

On June 27, 2004 The New York Times ran a travel piece by novelist Michael Mewshaw in which he reflects on the increasing religious diversity of Rome: "I used to entertain the antic notion that I could walk from one end of Rome to the other by ducking in and out of the city's hundreds of churches. I imagined myself strolling beneath an almost continuous canopy of frescoed ceilings swarming with angels and saints. All around me, I assumed, there would be the familiar figures - black-shawled widows, rambunctious children and devout nuns and priests, everyone Italian except for a few tourists admiring the Caravaggios. But I've had to revise that picture, because as the demographics of Italy have changed, so has the complexion of its churchgoers. With immigrants streaming in from Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia, various parishes have put their facilities at the disposal of foreign worshipers...But even in this quintessential Italian setting, I couldn't help noticing the presence of extracomunitari, as the immigrants are called. Every Sunday evening, Chiesa della Natività di Gesù throbs with the chants and clapping of Congolese Catholics. Two blocks away at Chiesa di San Tommaso Apostolo, Coptic Christians from Ethiopia and Eritrea fill the Via di Parione, with women in flowing robes and the sounds of drums and reed pipes, all of which provokes bafflement in early morning drinkers at the nearby Abbey Theater occurred to me that a trek through Roman churches these days constitutes more than a promenade across the grand breadth and glorious length of city. It has become a microcosmic pilgrimage around the globe. Adding the Jewish Tempio Maggiore, the Islamic Moschea di Roma and the Rome Buddhist Vihara to the mix, anyone with energy and curiosity can now touch base with many of the world's major religions and races in a long day's walk."