Menu
In the News

How the Church is helping refugees in Rome find respect, empathy and services

President Dallin H. Oaks: Latter-day Saints believe in helping support and improve the lot of refugees

Group of people of various nationalities sit in a classroom with a yellow wall; all hold guitars as they practice

Ghanaian refugee Martwi Muhammed, right, practices guitar during class taught by Steve Waddington, left, at the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center in the St. Paul’s Within the Walls Episcopal Church in Rome, Italy, on Tuesday, July 19, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News


ROME, Italy — Steve Waddington instinctively strums the strings of an invisible guitar as he talks about teaching simple chords on the instrument to refugees. He sings a song about leaving worries behind and looking forward with hope.

Then his thoughts turn to an individual who found his way into Waddington’s class in the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center just a few hours earlier. 

The student was missing every chord change. “He was just singing the song, not changing the chord,” he recalled. “But it didn’t matter because he was enjoying himself.”

Each week hundreds of men and boys — seeking respect, empathy and services — gather at the center, in the crypt of the American Episcopal Church’s St. Paul’s Within the Walls building in Rome, Italy.

A few are able to take music lessons from Waddington. “What I do is try to teach guitar to anyone who wants to learn,” he said. “It’s very rewarding. There’s times where I struggle to sing because I am getting a little bit emotional, because it is just a great thing to be able to do.”

With help and the volunteer efforts of many like Waddington — including members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the center is a safe place where refugees can gather, get food and find acceptance.

merlin_2932779.jpg

Nives Valli teaches Italian to refugees at the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center in the St. Paul’s Within the Walls Episcopal Church in Rome, Italy, on Tuesday, July 19, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The center is a nonreligious organization, said managing director Giulia Bonoldi. “We are independent. But at the same time, we try to highlight that it’s thanks to those principles that are part of every religion that we are able to carry out our mission.”

Guests to the center find security and assistance starting the integration process, added Bonoldi. They receive “language training, computer training, legal assistance and work assistance.”

It is important to remember that refugees and asylum-seekers are not simple migrants; they were forced to flee their countries of origin, Bonoldi added. “They end up here. They don’t have any family connections or friends; they have very little help. They go through very long procedures to obtain needed permits and they live unstable lives for years.”

Those who want to help refugees can start small — offering a smile or financial resources or their time, she said.

Often people forget about the human aspect of the refugee crisis — in Europe and across the globe.

merlin_2931897.jpg

President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, smiles during an interview at the Rome Italy Temple visitors’ center in Rome on Tuesday, July 19, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

In July President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency spoke about refugees while offering an address on religious liberty worldwide while visiting the historic city.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints respect and believe in helping support and improve the lot of refugees, said President Oaks. 

“Whether you look at Africa or Europe or the British Isles or America or South America, it’s hard to find a country that was not affected by or inhabited by refugees at some point,” said President Oaks.

Speaking of Latter-day Saint contributions, Bonoldi said the Church has supported the center’s breakfast program and donated supplies.

President Oaks said the Church respects and believes in helping to teach and support and improve the lot of refugees. “We have so many refugees in the world today. We need to be sympathetic, understanding and welcoming, because in the origin of most people on this planet, we are all descended from refugees,” he said.

merlin_2932775.jpg

Latter-day Saint Charities missionaries Darce and Peggy Guymon serve at the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center at St. Paul’s Within the Walls Episcopal Church in Rome, Italy, on Tuesday, July 19, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Ayman Wasef, a refugee who was served by the center, said he was lucky to have learned of the center that provides services free of charge.

At the center, he learned to speak Italian and was given legal advice and help finding employment. “It is something amazing,” he said. He started to plan his future, to make goals for the future. He dreamed of gaining an education. “They just kept supporting me,” he said.

merlin_2932765.jpg

Former Gambian refugee Mahamadou Sankarah now works at the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center at St. Paul’s Within the Walls Episcopal Church in Rome, Italy, on Tuesday, July 19, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Newsletters
Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed