ROME – Instead of the usual homily, a moment of silence will be observed during all Masses in the Archdiocese of Fermo in central Italy this weekend to honor a Nigerian immigrant was who brutally beaten to death in broad daylight.

Alika Ogorchukwu, 39, was killed in the center of Civitanova Marche Friday afternoon. A 32-year-old man from Salerno, in Italy’s Campania region, has been arrested on charges of murder and for allegedly stealing Ogorchukwu’s cell phone.

According to Italian media reports, Ogorchukwu, who worked as a street vendor of lighters and handkerchiefs, was attacked by the man after asking his girlfriend to either buy a handkerchief or to give him a euro.

Ogorchukwu was reportedly beaten with the crutch he had been using since February 2021. He was hit by a drunk driver while returning home on his bicycle and sustained permanent nerve damage.

In an official communique after the incident, the Archdiocese of Fermo, led by Archbishop Rocco Pennacchio, said that in the wake of the violence, their churches “choose the attitude of silence to let our hearts be hurt and upset by what happened.”

“We pray for the victim, and we are close to all those who are in pain and anguish over what happened.” The communique also said that on Sunday, “there will be a few minutes of silence instead of the homily.”

“We want to reaffirm our commitment to peace so that aggression does not take the place of justice and no longer endangers other lives. No form of violence can have citizenship in life according to the style of the Kingdom of God,” it said, and also offered prayers for the attacker and his family.

Ogorchukwu, who was married with an 8-year-old son, was known throughout the neighborhood and described by locals who saw him peddling as a calm person who never made trouble, and who was fully integrated with all the proper immigration documents.

Recorded on several surveillance cameras, the incident has shocked the local community and reawakened anger among immigrants, who say that racism was a motive in the crime.

His wife, Charity Oriachi, and hundreds of people from the Nigerian community, along with many Italians, protested the incident in Civitanova Marche on Saturday, voicing anger that many of those who witnessed the attack filmed it rather than intervening.

Ogorchukwu’s death is not an isolated incident, but the latest in a string of migrant deaths over the past few years, all of which have been blamed, at least in part, on racism.

In September 2020, Willy Monteiro Duarte, a 21-year-old originally from Cape Verde, was beaten to death in Colleferro, a small town near Rome, by a group of young Italian men after getting into a confrontation with them while out with friends.

Those responsible, including two brothers with expertise in mixed martial arts, were arrested and sentenced to life in prison, however, the incident left deep scars in the local community and was widely condemned not only by local pastors and authorities, but also by anti-racism groups.

Duarte’s death took place just months after the death of George Floyd, an African American man who died while in police custody in May 2020 after an officer knelt on his neck and back for nearly nine minutes, despite pleas from Floyd that he could not breath.

Floyd’s death sparked global outcry, and large protests were organized throughout the United States, Europe and beyond condemning systematic racism and prejudice.

These protests were especially acute in Italy, which has long been accused of espousing racist views toward migrants, even when those migrants are star soccer players or government ministers.

In February 2018, a far-right extremist named Luca Traini wounded six African migrants during a shooting rampage in Macerata, just weeks before general elections in which immigration was a central theme for rightwing parties.

The day after the 2018 general elections, a Senegalese street vendor named Idy Diene, who had lived in Italy for over 20 years, was shot six times in Florence while selling his goods by a 65-year-old Italian man who told police that he was unable to go through with suicide, so he shot the first random target.

Speaking of Ogorchukwu’s murder, Father Vinicio Albanesi, a priest and founder of a welfare association, told Italian newspaper La Repubblica that “racism and anger that is vented on the most fragile” was the real cause of Ogorchukwu’s death.

“We live in a distrustful region, where Black people are accepted only if they do the humblest of jobs,” he said.

Similarly, Laura Boldrini, who belongs to Italy’s center-left Democratic party, said, “A man was killed on the street in Civitanova Marche with brutal violence, while witnesses filmed the scene. Father Albanesi is right: Racism, indifference and anger find an outlet on the weakest.”

After the recent fall of Italy’s government and the ousting of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Italy is scheduled to hold snap elections on Sept. 25. Among the frontrunners expected to win the election is a coalition led by the Fratelli di Italia party, which includes the rightwing Forza Italia party led by Silvio Berlusconi, and the far-right Lega party, led by conservative populist politician Matteo Salvini.

Salvini, who served as Italy’s interior minister and vice prime minister June 1, 2018- Sept. 5, 2019, is widely known for his aggressive policies on tackling illegal immigration and for tightening national security.

Known to be at odds with the pope over his strict anti-immigrant policies and his use of religious symbols in campaign rallies, Salvini has also faced civil charges for preventing migrants rescued at sea from docking in Sicily during his time in office, leaving them stranded with insufficient supplies in a bid to pressure other European countries to share the migrant load.

Although Salvini condemned Ogorchukwu’s murder, saying, “It’s crazy to die in this way, I hope the penalty is the maximum possible,” his forceful opposition to immigration has been faulted as a cause of racism in Italy, and fresh concern is brewing that should his coalition be victorious in September, racism in the country could become worse.

Speaking to Italian news agency SIR, the official news outlet of the Italian bishops, Father Mario Colabianchi of the St. Peter-Christ the King parish unit in Civitanova Marche, who knew Ogorchukwu personally, described him as “a meek man.”

Colabianchi condemned the inaction of onlookers, who “instead of intervening, filmed the horror,” which he said, “represents a greater exaltation of the spirit of violence.”

“A fundamental choice must be made towards non-violence and attention to the weakest,” he said, and cautioned against the desire for revenge in the pursuit of justice.

He stressed the need to develop an attitude of welcome and to debunk “the friend/enemy criteria, the dynamics of supremacy, in order to cultivate the seeds of fraternity and reconciliation.”

“Ours is a welcoming land, in the Le Marche we are not racists,” he said, voicing his belief that the real problem is the so-called culture of waste and insensitivity, which “becomes racism.”

“We are called, all of us, to educate ourselves more in the sense of community, to overcome that individualism that belongs a little to our nature and peasant culture,” and to grow together “in the values of sharing and extended solidarity, promoting the genuine characteristics of our people,” he said.

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