During the ELFAC General Assembly on Friday 19 November, the winner of the European Large Family of the Year Award 2021 was announced. We reproduce here the presentation of the nomination of this large family, which includes three children and eleven other ‘children’ who have been in foster care with them.
Dear friends of ANFN and ELFAC, we are Diego Mosca (39 years old, teacher at secondary schools) and Patrizia Pesenti (35 years old, Psychologist and psychotherapist), members of the Italian large Families Association (ANFN) for several years now. We are delighted that our friends and leaders of ANFN Bergamo have nominated us as Family of the Year and it is with joy that we present to you our simple story of a couple and a large family.
Our adventure together began in the oratory of our home town, Zogno, a small village nestled in the mountains of the mid-Brembana Valley, Bergamo. Growing up between voluntary work, missionary services abroad and commitments with friends, we fell in love. Ten years ago we decided to get married with the intention of living a conjugality open and welcoming; but we didn’t know how to make this dream come true. Still, as we often experienced, reality overcame our imagination and Providence came knocking at the door.
Patrizia’s colleagues suggested that we should live in a “family home”, which means a house where we could take in minors who had been removed from their families, sent by the Juvenile Court of Justice, for periods of time according to need. In collaboration with the local municipality, Institutions and services we were provided with a house that had been confiscated from the Mafia by the Ministry of the Interior.
On 7 July 2012, we got married and went to live in Berbenno, one of Italy’s smallest municipalities, in this house with open doors, which we had fixed up in the previous year with the help of many friends and volunteers. In a short time our dream had become exceeding all our expectations
We have always had the dream of becoming a large family (God permitting, of course) and to date, after 9 years of marriage, 14 children have been born or “reborn” within these walls. Three of them are our natural children: Elisa, 7 years old, Federico, 5, and Alessandro, 15 months old. They were born inside the experience of welcoming many children and young people in need, and for them it is normal to have a family regularly made up of 7 or 8 people, with brothers and sisters who come and go from time to time; this lifestyle has led, particularly the eldest, to ask herself questions, to wonder why not everyone can live with their mum and dad, and, above all, to share time, spaces, games… and parents!
We have hosted pre-adolescents or adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15; some of them are now ‘grown up’, and live outside the community, working and trying to become adults, striving every day to achieve the much desired autonomy. We had also children between 4 and 10. We can now say from experience that the length of time children stay in the community is directly proportional to their age. The younger children have always stayed for a few months or a year at the most, while the older ones have stayed with us for up to 5 years or more. Some of them have even continued to stay after the age of 18, thanks to the “administrative continuations” granted by the Juvenile Court.
It was nice to discover that as time went by, we managed to build up beautiful alliances with several biological parents. In some cases, the children have been able to return to their original family unit. This means a lot to us because the road we walked together has helped to rebuild frayed family relationships. We now feel we are ‘temporary’ parents of all the 14 children… and so it becomes difficult to answer the question: how many children do you have? Imagine, when we walk around shopping centres or the city, people stop us and ask: but are they all yours? An obvious and quite usual question for a large family which is complicated by the fact that one is milk white and platinum blonde, the other is mulatto and the other is ebony black… And how do you reconcile the ages of the overage and the young mother?
To support our family, we both work. We get reimbursements from our children’s social service’s municipalities but due to the many different needs of the children and to make the house as welcoming as possible, a lot more of help and resources are often needed. We generate all this provision partly through fundraising activities, selling products from local companies (apples, sweets, Christmas Panettone, etc.) and partly through the generosity of many donors who often remain anonymous.
As a community, we are also involved in the area in trying to respond to the needs of those who are ‘close to us’, taking in people who have to do socially useful work. We are often visited by catechism groups, groups from “Libera”, an association against mafias, youth groups, scouts, family groups, etc. While they ask us for a testimony, we ask them to work with us in the woods: in this way, for nine winters now, we have been able to collect a lot of wood, which we burn during the cold months. Through actions of mutual exchange, each of us can come out enriched by experiences, meetings, activities.
Our role here in the community, as ‘vice-dad’ and ‘vice-mom’, can be summed up as helping children who have not felt loved in their lives to experience being welcomed, to belong to someone, al least for a while, to feel that adults are taking care of them, so that they can feel they are worth something, that they count; day after day, in the daily routine, we try to give them a little security, in themselves, in others and in the world. In the process, especially when the children become adolescents, questions arise, anger, fatigue, about their own history… and here is the first step to find peace inside and with their family.
Thank you for your attention and sorry if we have been a bit long.
Diego and Patrizia are a ANFN’s delegated family and for 2 years chaired Bergamo’s family associations Forum