Russian ‘Angels’ Build Bridges of Peace in Italy
Written by Maria Gabriella Mieli, WFWP Turin
Friday, May 6, 2016
Turin, Italy—Using traditional songs and dances of Russia, a group of youthful performers touched the hearts of adults and children in northern Italy.
The Angels of Peace, a group of Russian boys and girls between 10 and 15 years of age, visited the northwestern city of Turin and the surrounding Piedmont Region for a series of performances from April 26 to May 6, 2016.
The organizers of the tour were Sergio Coscia of UPF-Turin and Maria Gabriella Mieli of the Italian chapter of Women’s Federation for World Peace (WFWP), an affiliated organization.
The 13 girls and five boys were accompanied by 10 parents, including the group’s founder and artistic director, Olga Vakulinskaya, who is also the president of WFWP-Russia, and the director of the choir, Liubov Smirnova.
The Angels of Peace can be called a creation of WFWP-Russia. The ensemble was founded in 2008 by Mrs. Vakulinskaya together with a group of mothers who are WFWP-Russia members. It has grown thanks to the dedication of these women.
The children in the ensemble are educated to develop a spirit of attention to others that translates into service to society, in line with the WFWP mission of developing projects for peace, moral and family education and solidarity. With the spirit of breaking down barriers and fostering reconciliation, the Angels of Peace have led Bridge of Peace ceremonies between Russia and Georgia, Russia and Belarus, and Russia and Ukraine. With the desire to bring joy to those who suffer, they give shows for children and adults with disabilities, the elderly and war veterans.
In 2012 the Angels of Peace received a gold medal at an international festival in South Korea and joined in a Bridge of Peace ceremony with the Little Angels Children’s Folk Ballet of Korea, the famous ensemble of Korean children. The two groups also performed for each other at the prestigious Sunhwa Arts school.
The Angels of Peace were brought to Italy for several reasons: first, to reaffirm the historical brotherhood between the peoples of Russia and Italy, letting the common language of song and dance touch people’s hearts through the purity of children. Second, to have the ensemble meet with Italian children and young people who are eager to learn about different traditions. Not least, to show to Italy the beauty of the Russian culture and traditions. Too often in recent years the Western media have portrayed Russia as a military and economic power, while neglecting the beautiful heart of the Russian people. The two sponsoring organizations wanted to provide opportunities for Russians and Italians to build peace through art, but also to be in peace by engaging together for the sake of others.
The stay of the Angels of Peace in Turin and the nearby Susa Valley was rich and intense, not only in activities, but also emotions. All the guests stayed in the homes of various families, and in this way both young people and adults were able to experience the warmth and embrace of the Italian people. In particular, the younger ones, in their reflections, expressed their gratitude for having felt “at home.”
The Angels of Peace made their debut in Italy in the town of Bruzolo in the Susa Valley. Thanks to Mayor Chiara Borgis, Councilor Mauro Bergamaschi and local organizations, the money that was raised was donated to a fund supporting disadvantaged neighborhoods. For the show a large gym was made available. Local families also offered dinner to all the participants.
The second show was held at the Murialdo Theater in Turin to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the Parish of Nostra Signora della Salute (Our Lady of Health). With the parish priest, Father Augustine, it was decided to donate the funds collected to needy families who attend the parish.
The third show was organized at Casa del Teatro Ragazzi e Giovani (House of the Children’s and Youths’ Theater) granted by the City of Turin. The funds were collected for Casa UGI (Italian Parents’ Union against Children’s Cancer), an excellent facility that houses children in cancer treatment from all over the world and their families.
At Palazzo di Città, the headquarters of the Municipality of Turin, the Angels of Peace met Dr. Giovanni Giovannetti, the mayor’s spokesperson; the city’s director of international affairs, cooperation and peace, Dr. Fortunata Armocida; her collaborators, Dr. Francesca Marceddu and Dr. Maria Bottiglieri, together with a member of the Piedmont Regional Council, Dr. Giovanni M. Ferraris. Here the Angels performed their repertoire of Russian folk songs in the Hall of Columns.
At Palazzo Lascaris, the headquarters of the Piedmont Regional Council, there was a very intense and exciting meeting with the council president, Dr. Mauro Laus, and his spokesperson, Dr. Maria Grazia Grippo. Dr. Laus shook hands with all the members of the group, taking interest in their activities and in the projects of WFWP and UPF, then asking for a short performance. At that point the Angels offered several Russian songs followed by the Italian national anthem, to the great surprise of the president, who was particularly moved by this.
Another significant meeting was held at the headquarters of Famija Turinèisa. The president, Daniela Piazza, welcomed the Angels of Peace together with actors wearing the historical Turin masks of Gianduja and Giacometta. This association was founded in 1925 in this beautiful and historic building, where a Bridge of Peace ceremony was held between the Angels and the Giacomette, a folk group of Italian girls dressed in typical costumes of 18th century flower sellers. The Giacomette performed for the Angels the traditional Monferrina folk dance. At the end of the show the Famija Turinéisa offered everybody the typical Merenda Sinoira meal.
Among the different services the Municipality of Turin offered was a walking tour of the city, including a visit to the National Cinema Museum and the Mole Antonelliana, the tallest museum in the world. In addition there was a tour of the National Automobile Museum: Here the group had fun taking photos near the carriages, the prestigious Italian cars of the last century as well as Ferrari and several race cars.
Dr. Guido Curto, director of the Museum of Palazzo Madama, offered a guided tour of the museum, which was hosting 70 masterpieces from the Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg in Russia.
What touched people the most in this experience was the intercultural and educational encounters. The prayer with the Catholic priest of Nostra Signora della Salute and the meeting with Father Ambrogio from the Russian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate were memorable, as well as the visit to the Synagogue of Turin, which ended with moving prayers offered in Russian, Hebrew and Italian as those saying the prayers held hands.
What involved the children most was three meetings with Italian children at schools. The first was at the Russian school Azbuka (sincere thanks to Larissa Terzago, director of the school and leader of Turin’s Russian community, who organized the morning), where the children of Italian-Russian families meet weekly to study Russian. Here the Angels of Peace, divided into groups according to their age, were included in the different classes and interacted with their Italian peers, speaking in Russian; at the end, they all met in the Great Hall for the show: The Italian children offered the anthem of the Russian school and a pleasant scene, while the Angels performed their traditional repertoire. The many children and their parents in the audience were fascinated and moved by the show.
The second meeting was held at the Matteotti Institute of Turin. Deputy Claudia Bocca together with the gymnastics teacher, Angela Baratta, organized a wonderful day. After the musical entertainment offered by some Italian students, the Angels of Peace performed in the schoolyard before more than 400 children. The mothers of the students of Class 1C prepared and offered lunch, and in the afternoon the Italian pupils accompanied the Russian boys on an orienteering trail in the park of the school. The Matteotti Institute two years ago won the national first prize in this discipline. After other games together and interviews for the school newspaper, the leaders of the Italian and Russian WFWP started the Bridge of Peace ceremony, involving children, parents and teachers.
The last meeting was held at the Jewish school Artom—Colonna and Finzi, thanks to the collaboration of Carola Ovazza of the Jewish community and the headmaster of the school. The Italian children met the Angels of Peace, offering songs of the Jewish tradition, listening to the songs of the Russian tradition, singing along with the Italian national anthem, requesting the Russian national anthem and offering the Israeli national anthem. At the end of the show, which was attended by about 150 children, WFWP organized another Bridge of Peace between the Russian children and the Jewish Italian children, which touched everyone.
In total over 1,200 people attended the shows of the Angels of Peace in this intense Piedmont program.
Several local associations supported the project with great enthusiasm, including the local chapter of Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU), another affiliated organization. Many volunteers hosted the children in their homes, and the Italo-Russian Cultural Association “E Ora?!” (And Now?!) accompanied the students on guided tours of several museums. Kate Veshkina, the president, also collaborated in co-presenting the shows.
Heartfelt thanks go also to the sponsors, among whom we would like to remember the owners of the restaurants Alla Portata (Alessandro), Sovietniko (Giovanna), Sol Levante Fusion (Mr. Yan) and the herbalist’s shop Gino San (Luigi Ventura).
Special thanks to the Piedmont institutions involved in the project and to all the associations and the people who gave their patronage and participated in performances: especially Aurelio Albanese (Sportello del malato); Barbara Cervetti, councilor for culture and youth policy of the Metropolitan City; and Daniela Ruffini, vice president of the Piedmont Regional Council.
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