TORONTO - It took a couple of weeks for me to finally connect with Abuna Fr. Mario Cornioli. He leads the Saint [Mar] Youssef Christian Community Centre in Amman Jordan. We finally succeeded in overcoming the technological obstacles (and my incompetencies in the new means of communication) but, Inshalla, I finally reached Fr. Mario, just days after the Royal Wedding of the Crown Prince.
No, I was not in the market for a “confessor”. I was intrigued by the stories of the Centre’s successes Our conversation would have been instructive [for me] when I served as Minister for Human Resources and later as Minister of Immigration. So, this was more about the applied ingenuity of the Italian diaspora to help fellow [Catholic] Christians displaced by intolerance and persecution flowing out of the war in Iraq, specifically from the battle of Mosul eight years ago.
Canadians from Atlantic Canada will immediately identify with the concept of “teach a man how to fish and…” From a government’s perspective, Fr. Mario’s drive, vocation and motivation rooted in the Franciscan philosophy of ‘judgement based on performance of good works’ (acts of altruism), embodies that ethic. His works would make him the ideal partner for delivering government programs aiming at skills development, rebuilding a sense of self worth and self-sufficiency.
“All of that requires discipline, attention to detail, repetition, correction, recognition/reward and an eye aimed to the future”, he says with the enthusiasm of someone who shares in the achievements of others under his guidance. He could have added, “and a network of experts in the relevant industries willing to share and show their knowledge”.
“Look, the reality is that these Refugees are a proud people. They very much appreciate the ‘safe spaces’ afforded them by Jordanians. That gesture is literally ‘lifesaving’; however, they cannot forever exist on the charity of others – that is neither edifying nor self-sustainable”, he said. “Moreover, the financial generosity of wealthy democracies [among others] will not be limitless”, added Fr. Mario.
I noted that Jordan is an Oasis of tolerance and relative openness in a geo-cultural area with differing value structures. An assessment he shared: “but, we are here because governments value our commitment to helping our ‘fellow man [and woman]’ and to improving the economic environment in the community”. Not by making massive investments in Industrial overhaul, he added, but by nurturing small and mid-sized enterprises (in Canada, we might call them ‘cottage industries’) using the available human talent and the [often limited] local resources.
Probably showing my personal ignorance, I asked what someone like him from SanSepolcro, near Arezzo, Tuscany, would know about the ‘natural resources’ of an arid Middle Eastern Kingdom.
He did not skip a beat. “The quality of locally grown organic material for human consumption is excellent. We asked cooks and chefs from Tuscany (and elsewhere) Italy to set up training centres for our ‘refugee clientele’. We set up a restaurant. While they developed their culinary expertise, we brought in cheesemakers, again from Tuscany to train others to make the various types of cheeses locally bred sheep’s milk provided us.”
“For us, he said, it is all about incrementalism. Local herders have increased both milk production and the availability of wool. You guessed it, we brought in our network of textile producers and garment designers with their cutters and machinery to manufacture apparel for local and regional use. Thanks once again to Italian Foreign Aid and to private sponsors.”
Sensing he was on a roll, I ventured with, “have I missed anything at this Oasis?”. "Our Community Centre is now home to the best restaurant in this part of the Middle East and it manufactures its own Gelato which we serve with pride [Lord forgive me] due to the training and machinery offered generously by my co-regionalists from… Tuscany”.
The reader will imagine how this ends. Matteo Renzi, former mayor of Florence, Tuscany; (former Prime Minister of Italy; current Senator in the Italian Parliament and guest at the Crown Prince’s wedding) ate at Fr. Mario’s Youseff Community restaurant. What was his verdict? Si mangia bene!