On the instep of the boot of Italy, where the brilliantly azure Ionian Sea contrasts with the stark Calabrian landscape, a social experiment is in place.

Five miles off the coast is the town of Riace, set inland to avoid pirates. It is now the home to a new type of friendly invaders; ones, though, who want to take advantage of what the town has to offer in a wholly different way.

In October last year, hundreds of North African migrants perished off the coast of the island of Lampedusa, their perilous journey coming to a barely conceivable end. Since then and despite the perilous, potentially deadly journey that confronts them, migrants till set off striving for the nearest part of Europe.

The death of the migrants, as they reached the Italian coast, raised an issue most of Europe wishes they could ignore; the number of migrants willing to pack their families onto dangerous boats to reach safety away from the regimes that don’t accept the politics of their faith.

In Heart and Soul, John Laurenson travels to Riace to meet the migrants who have settled in the ancient town and made it their home; and the families, who have revived traditional crafts, repopulated the local school and kept alive a town that was dying due to its own migration.

He will hear the stories of how faith led them to leave their homes, or be tortured and beaten by authoritarian religious groups, but how that same faith sustained them during their long arduous boat journey and strengthened them as they made this old town their new home.

John also meets the parish priest who echoes the words of Pope Francis when he visited Lampedusa earlier this year, we see, when we look into the face of one of these people washed up on Europe’s shores, the face of humanity itself, of Christ Himself.

This episode was first broadcast in November 2013. Picture shows local sign 'Riace: Town of Welcome'.

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29 minutes

Last on

Mon 3 Feb 2014 15:32 GMT