AFRICA/TUNISIA - "We need to see the movements of people in the Mediterranean as an opportunity", says the National Director of the PMS in Tunisia

Tunis (Agenzia Fides) - "We are close to the Tunisian people in this transitional phase of their history, with love and respect", says Fr. Jawad Alamat, National Director of the Pontifical Missionary Societies (PMS) of Tunisia in an interview with Fides. Tunisia is preparing the first truly free and democratic elections in its history, to be held on October 23. In view of this deadline, we asked a few questions on the situation of the Church and the country to Fr. Jawad, who is of Jordanian origin.

How is the Church made up in Tunisia?
We are a small community made up of people of 70 nationalities. Among the faithful there are businessmen, diplomats, students (most of them from sub-Saharan Africa), refugees and tourists, even if the latter have become less frequent lately because of political instability. Let’s not despair, however, we hope tourism will soon be as it used to be. Besides these, there are about 12,000 Catholic women married to Muslim Tunisians. Finally, we have a dozen Catholic schools, where most of the approximately 8,000 students are Muslims: their parents are placing their trust in us and we appreciate the quality of education offered.

How did you live the phase of the Tunisian revolution? Did you feel unsafe?
No, because our Muslim friends protected us and told us to be calm. It is true that Fr. Marek Rybinsk’s murderer (Polish Salesian missionary killed on Feb.18 in Manouba, see Fides 19 and 22 February 2011) was a sad episode, but it was a common crime that was intended to attack the Church as such. In fact, 3,000 Tunisians paraded in front of the Cathedral of Tunis carrying signs that expressed their solidarity with the Church. It was a beautiful gesture.

What do you think of the problem of Tunisian emigration in Europe and of the social alarm that this phenomenon creates in some areas?
I was on the Italian island of Lampedusa, the first landing point in Europe for a large part of Tunisian migrants. I understand the islanders reaction of frustration, because when a population of 3,000 people suddenly reaches 5,000 it is physiological to have problems. That said, it is necessary to overcome emergencies and think about the Mediterranean and the movement of people between the northern and southern shores as an opportunity and not as a threat. Tunisia, with its young and dynamic population, is an unexplored resource for Europe, especially for Italy, which is, however loved by Tunisians. The immigration movement is not necessarily unidirectional, from Tunisia to Europe. European business leaders could come to Tunisia to invest and create new jobs.

To do this the political situation needs to become more stable, some fear the success of Islamist parties in the upcoming elections ...
The Tunisians are learning the rules of the democratic game day by day and are doing their best so that the next election is successful. As for the Islamists, it is a good thing for them to be involved in the democratic process, accepting the rules. Their exclusion would be dangerous as well as unjust. I would like to point out that 70% of the unemployed are young people, with diplomas and degrees with a specialization. This is a huge potential to be used for the good of the Country. The Tunisian identity is the result of a synthesis between the West and Islam. This is why Tunisia can be a bridge between Europe and the Arab world. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides 04/10/2011)

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