This is the testimony of Elena and Marcello, and their 4 children, who have been affected by the flood that hit Emilia-Romagna. They are responsible for the project “Le Querce della Porrettaccia” of the Ignatian Family Network, and since 2021 they have formed part of the board of the Centre for Ignatian Spirituality as guides of the Spiritual Exercises for Families.
On Monday at lunchtime a danger warning was transmitted through social media. They would close educational services and schools. ‘It rained intermittently from that night to Wednesday at lunchtime,’ Elena said. She is married to Marcello, with 4 children, and since 2006 they have been involved in a shelter project ‘Le Querce della Porrettaccia’ in Predappio Alta, 20 km from Forlì.
The country house owned by Marcello’s family had been redesigned and had gradually become a space for people and families in need or in search of shelter, facing the challenge of sharing. “The first landslide on the hillside occurred as early as Tuesday during lunchtime, while in the valley the danger warning was set off that the rivers were flooding. Since Tuesday evening, we have been without electricity and telephone lines. But we, and only we, have never lacked water. In the valley, water is still being supplied by tank trucks.
From Wednesday onwards, there were tremors everywhere. I was evacuated by a Civil Defence bus down the valley. This time, unlike 23 years ago in Kosovo, I was not sitting on the side of the rescuers, but on the side of those in need of help. I prayed throughout the journey to entrust my fear to the Lord, passing through a dark valley with ravines that had opened in the earth, the mud covering the road for long stretches, as the bus tried to bypass the cliffs. I prayed that He would lead us to the valley floor, over grassy pastures and still waters, my favourite psalm.
Naming the feelings
The sound of the forest and the earth crumbling is a mixture of bursting wood and powerful waterfall, but this sound was not a pleasant one at all as the sound of fire kindling in a fireplace or a wonder of nature, but gave rise to the feeling of deep uncertainty, not knowing what can still happen because the land keeps tremoring. My son Samuel asked me to name the emotions, in front of the landslide on the road to our house. ‘A mixture of fear and sadness,’ he told me. For me, precariousness, because of the difficulty of imagining what can happen now, and relying on the fact of being together, with Him and with so many travelling companions who together form a Presence”.
An unimaginable change
“The silence broken by the rumbling of the mountain, trees sliding on a carpet of clay for dozens of metres, the wounded mountain” is how Marcello illustrates those moments. “Economic activities are surrounded by unreachable precipices.” “Existing roads have been wiped out or very risky to walk through. This is what our neighbours did,’ Elena recounts. “They were at table, the mother and the two children, waiting for their father to return. He walked 5 km through landslides and mudslides. When he managed to reach them, they took some clothes, called us to ask for shelter, and set off again through the mud. They arrived at our place the next evening. The road accessing our house had also collapsed and they had to continue walking to another house. There they had a power generator, and we were able to charge our mobile phones and torches for the two days we were without electricity. On the morning of the second day, we woke up at six o’clock to the sound of birds singing. We thought they were singing because the sun was shining, but on opening the shutters it was raining heavily. They were still singing their praise, as in the days of the lockdown.
Choosing the essentials
On Thursday afternoon we were able to transport our 88-year-old grandmother by helicopter. She couldn’t get through the road we had to open in the forest. The helicopter was 30 metres above the ground. She was carried from the wheelchair to the rescuer’s harness,” she says. “We had to leave everything behind in a short time and carry only the essentials reduced to the space of a backpack,” Marcello says. “It was difficult on Friday morning to tell our children to choose,” Elena confesses. “Three sets of clothes, two pairs of shoes, one of which they were wearing, notebooks and technological devices,‘as for books we can access the online version, Mum’,Samuele’s medicines and a backpack with games and pencil case for Daniele, that he could carry.‘Two pairs of trousers, one of which I’m already wearing, Mum, but I can’t leave the gym belt’.. In fact, as early as Friday evening, the deputy mayor, as well as some scouts from the village, offered to set off over the next few days using a rope to walk to our house to retrieve what is needed, as soon as some sunshine returns, perhaps on Sunday.
“Sara, our physiotherapist who used to come to the house for free for grandma, welcomed us yesterday in the gym of the studio, which for us was a massage of the heart. She made a makeshift table out of a doctor’s couch, mum’s spaghetti with tuna, and offered the neighbour’s cake, her granddaughter’s dry clothes and a splendid coffee! When we went out, we walked up to the town hall where they hugged us before updating us on the situation’. Marcello remembers the petrified eyes of a young volunteer ‘perhaps on her first experience. They stared at the person recounting their disasters. She had no words when faced with the gravity of the situation’.
“The Lord precedes us”
We expressed our desire to go to Ravenna to our relatives for two days, to rest and keep the children safe, but then to return to Predappio bassa if there is a place for the six of us, we are not a few. We thought we could hear from the parish priest or ask for shelter at the kindergarten and former nuns’ house, now half-empty. Not even an hour had passed, when, without having done anything, a message arrived from the deputy mayor: “What about being caretakers of Santa Rosa for a while?” The Lord precedes us. We wanted to remain to finish school. Many have offered us shelter from Veneto to Sicily. Irene and I have our high school graduation this year, she as a student and I as a support teacher for two boys, and then we want to rebuild an area and a community together’.
From March 2022 to January this year, Elena and Marcello had offered shelter to a Ukrainian family who had fled the war, ‘our last long-term welcome. Today, we are the ones packing our backpacks in a hurry to get away from danger, we are the ones in need. Some friends will provide us with a car with four seats, we are six, but it is enough. We will travel on foot and by bus, now that we shall be stationed in the village. I feel entrusted and cared for and I am waiting to see what the Lord is inviting us to”. “Many times, I have heard persons pleading to God for mercy,” Marcello concludes. “Rather, I feel I am imploring man to have mercy towards nature, so that he may return to his original vocation as custodian of creation.”