Did your passion for medicine come before your call to help migrants? Was it this passion that led you to meet the Scalabrini secular missionaries?

When I had to choose what to study at university, at some point it became clear to me that if I hadn’t at least tried to pursue a career in medicine, I would never have forgiven myself. I wanted to devote my life to serving others and dreamed of becoming a Doctors Without Borders physician. During high school, I had distanced myself from the Church and never thought about a consecrated life. I rediscovered my faith when, disappointed by university studies focused only on the biological aspect and not open to the social, political, and cultural context and its influence on people’s health, I started attending VIS (International Volunteerism for Development – today Volint) meetings, an association linked to the Salesian family. I was attracted to the themes of human rights, international cooperation, sustainable development, but I did not know that each meeting started with a moment of deepening faith and listening to a biblical text, which led me to rediscover the Word of God and the great love with which the Father loves us. I met the community of Scalabrinian Secular Missionaries when I started volunteering, as a medical student, at the Poliambulatorio della Caritas Diocesana in Rome, where at that time a member of our community, Bianca, who is currently in Vietnam, was in charge. One summer, Bianca invited me to participate in a camp for young people of different nationalities in Solothurn, Switzerland, where our community was born. I was struck by the experience of communion among the diverse backgrounds and by the secular vocation, and right there in Solothurn, the Lord knocked on my door with an important question: ‘Do you want to follow me? Do you want to completely dedicate your life to me, walking with migrants and young people in this community?’. Following brief reflection, and not without fear, I said yes.

Your service at the Poliambulatorio della Caritas Diocesana in Rome, at Termini station, is part of this life journey alongside migrants and the most vulnerable. How do you live the daily challenges you encounter?

In 2015, after my first vows and completing my specialization in Public Health, I was sent to Rome to continue my commitment to training young university students for a more equitable and inclusive world that encompasses and celebrates all of its diversity. We could never have imagined that in a short time I would have the opportunity to work at the Poliambulatorio della Caritas Diocesana, becoming its leader (as Bianca had left Rome for a new missionary assignment, and the role was taken over by a colleague, a mother). Over the years, I have had the opportunity to meet migrants of different nationalities, in conditions of social marginalization (often those who were without residence permits, homeless, and unemployed), trying to walk a path alongside them, welcoming them, taking care of them together with other operators and many health and non-health volunteers. Even during the Sars Cov-2 pandemic, the Poliambulatorio always remained open, encountering those who, even during lockdown periods, had no other choice but to stay on the streets. Being present in this context, where so much history has been made by those who preceded me, has been first and foremost a great educational opportunity about humanity for me. I try to make my contribution, never alone but always in a team, aware of my limits (which I reach daily) and the complexity of some situations and the dramatic lives faced by many migrants. Every day, when meeting people from all over the world, we experience that which St. John Baptist Scalabrini once described: “we find out that we all already belong to the one great human family”.

How important do you think it is to sensitize the new generations and expose them to the life of the most vulnerable? And how can we reach the hearts of our youth?

Training young people is an aspect we hold very dear in the community, as well as a personal passion. The International Formation Centres GB Scalabrini, founded in 1982 in Stuttgart, are real laboratories for new relationships and training in catholicity, where we cultivate encounters and dialogue among young people of different languages, cultures, and backgrounds to learn to look at the other, the stranger, and every reality, especially that of migration, through a new lens.

Being called by the community, in February 2022, I completed a doctorate in Public Health with my thesis on Undergraduate education in Global Health as a strategy for combating health inequalities. Working on these topics, I was accompanied by the certainty that in the hearts of young people there is already a thirst for justice, solidarity, and equality… What we can do is create the space for this to emerge and be heard, to be an environment where what might seem impossible (for example, the encounter between diversities) becomes possible, accompanying young people in their dreams, providing them with the real life tools to achieve them, without setting aside creativity and a bit of madness.

‘To make fraternity and social friendship grow, we are all called upon to be creative, to think “outside the box”. We are required to open up new spaces where art, music and being together become tools for intercultural dynamics, where the richness of the encounter with diversity can be savoured..’ (Pope Francis, Speech to pilgrims gathered for the canonization of Saint John Baptist Scalabrini, October 10, 2022, available at URL: https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/it/speeches/2022/october/documents/20221010-pellegrini-canonizz-scalabrini.html).

Giulia Civitelli, Scalabrinian Secular Missionary, currently lives in Rome and works at the Poliambulatorio della Caritas Diocesana for marginalized persons. She is a doctor, specialized in Hygiene and Preventive Medicine, and holds a Ph.D. in Public Health with a thesis on university education to combat health inequalities.

Translated by Gabriel Biondo, SIMI intern