«Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you»
Genesis 12, 1: the call of Abram.
entecostalism is known for its passionate use of the word and for its enthusiastic liturgy in which miracles and prophecies manifest themselves involving faithful and religious leaders. It is therefore a Christianity that reveals a charismatic and supernatural space of profound vitality, in which the sacred word is blended with cultures and traditions, giving rise to an energy that is released during the liturgy, capable of transforming the celebration into a moment of strengthening and consolidation of the community. The most marginalized, desperate and distressed can experience the powers of the Spirit in the first person and be spiritually and socially reinvigorated. On a collective level, the liturgy becomes, therefore, an instrument of narration of identity, community and memory.
In Bari, in a Pentecostal church, talking about God is a very elegant man who preaches without ever stopping his breath. It is the pastor Habib Suleman, the spiritual father of the CVCI (Christ Victory Church International). Unlike the overwhelming majority of the faithful, it is Ghanaian, as is the founder, Pastor Osman Gyasi Mensah. But the faithful are almost all Nigerians. The function sees alternate many pastors to the altar, speaking in English mixed with an Anglo-Nigerian jargon. Despite they living in Italy for several years, few people know the Italian language. The cause is the compactness of the Nigerian community that hardly opens up to the rest of the people of Bari, which ignores their habits. This is nothing but the mirror of the Nigerian social situation, substantially very divided from the rest of Africa due to irreconcilable ethnic and religious conflicts.
The sense of democracy is felt not only in mystical communion, but also in the moment of testimonies in which the faithful tell of the divine favors received, incredible miracles and revelations. In this circumstance faith is strengthened and everyone has the confirmation of being in the right place. In fact, one of the most repeated words is document, which differs from the various “praise to the Lord”, “amen”, “in Jesus Christ …”. The mystical transposition of the condition of migrants means that the obtaining of documents, first of all the residence permit, is due to the intercession of God. Any earthly act, how to get a job and improve one’s economic and social condition in the foreign context , is thought in a biblical key. Every evolution, be it a sacrifice or a prize, has a very precise religious meaning in the history of the diaspora of migrants. Everything must be reconsidered not as a movement of people, but as the movement of religion and this means that there is a much more complex and unpredictable end linked to the migration of religion and people.
We are no longer talking about an economic migrant or a political refugee. Everything is part of a larger and unstoppable divine plan. All that is earthly is invested by a new vision of reality. It is no coincidence that even the feminine condition, in particular, is revisited in a divine key. A large proportion of young girls present are subject to prostitution. Thanks to the Holy Spirit, they can heal their evil and live their condition as if it were the way of expiation to heaven.
The pastor uses the pre-existing symbolic materials of the Nigerian social-religious environment and uses them to create a new symbolic universe. Let them imagine other possible worlds and mobilize new energies to start a new belief: create new social scenarios. To the condition of foreigner and migrant, as well as to the whole paradox of migration, the pastor attributes a new meaning. Their liturgies are a perfect combination of storytelling about migration, successful biblical stories, prayer, blessing and self-suggestion that create the conditions for an experience of empowerment, a promise of salvation and success.
In the migratory context the foreigner is decanted and rediscovered in the words of the Bible, in which he recognizes the power of God and his greatness and reward. Besides dispensing salvation, protection, healing and miracles, these churches confer new identities: it is part of the great divine plan. Faced with this new identity, the material reasons that led him to migrate lose meaning. It is a drop in the river of religion and such that it is stronger than any other material limit (borders, nations, states, laws, etc …). The migrant does not escape, but makes a sacred pilgrimage to salvation. Understanding this explains the strength of soul that marks him faced on the path to liberation in the name of God.
In the specific diasporic context it is the paradox of migration that changes meaning, as well as the image of the migrant. The condition for this to happen is to become born again, with a new awareness: that of being part of a divine plan.