Nur Essa, a Muslim Syrian woman whose family was brought to Rome from Lesbos by Pope Francis last April, said that the openness he has shown to those of different faiths has deeply impressed her.
“For me, I was surprised,” she told CNA. “(He is) very open to all of
the cultures, all of the religions, and he sets an example for all the
religious people in the world, because he uses religion to serve the
Essa, 31, has met the Pope on several occasions, most recently during
the Pope's visit Feb. 17th to Roma Tre University, a public research
university in Rome where she currently studies.
She was one of four students of the university to ask the Pope a question, which he answered during his visit.
Essa's question was about the integration of immigrants in Italy:
what they must do to integrate into their host country, but also what
the rights of the immigrant are.
Before this, Essa and her husband and their little boy met Pope
Francis when he brought them to Rome April 16th, 2016, along with two
other Syrian refugee families who had been staying in a camp on the
Island of Lesbos. She said that the Pope greeted them and blessed her
Essa also had an opportunity to speak with him at length when they
were invited to be guests at a lunch Aug. 11th at the Vatican, which
Essa said was an “honor.”
“He's very, very modest, a very simple man, a very real human being,” she said.
Essa has both an undergraduate degree and a master's in microbiology, and is studying biology at Roma Tre.
She said that she and her husband are both from the city of Damascus
in Syria and chose to flee the country because her husband had been
asked to join the military service there.
They went from Damascus to Turkey, and then from Turkey to Greece,
where they stayed in a refugee camp for one month before they were
fortunate enough to be chosen as one of the families the Pope brought
back to Rome.
Pope Francis visited Roma Tre University at the request of the Dean
of the university, who wanted to invite a public figure for the
university's 25th anniversary.
According to Fr. John D'Orazio, who is a Catholic chaplain assigned
to the university by the Diocese of Rome, the last pope to make a formal
visit was St. John Paul II for the university’s 10th anniversary in
The chaplaincy just finished constructing its first Catholic chapel
for students nearby to the university, something they've been wanting to
do for a long time, Fr. D'Orazio said.
He said that although students don't live on campus, they still try
“to create opportunities for students to meet together” and to reflect
on their Catholic faith and “what it means for them in their own studies
and in being citizens in today’s world and in society.”
It's a very diverse campus, he said, with students of no faith or of
different religions, including Muslim students. “I think it's very
interesting and beautiful to be a chaplain inside of a state
university,” he said, “because it means creating dialogue, creating
“It's almost like mission work, because you're working in a place
where there are all kinds of different people, different backgrounds,
different points of view. So it's a good place to create bridges,” he
“Pope Francis talks a lot about creating bridges and not walls. And I
think that also the chaplaincy in a state university is all about
creating bridges of dialogue and collaboration.”