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Francesco Rocca, an Italian at the top of international support and solidarity activities

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Giancarlo Elia Valori

People who are less well known and even less mentioned in the media – rather than those who are known for “environmental” reasons and by the will of political parties – honour and serve Italy and the world. The latter often have no skills or even qualifications for their role, thus reducing themselves to mere yes-men useful to local and not general interests.

Today I want to talk to you about a person who honour Italy, although his name and face are not so familiar, as happens on most of these occasions when aporia rules.

Francesco Rocca is currently the President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and national President of the Italian Red Cross.

Voluntary work has always been central to his life, even as a university student at the Faculty of Law. His first volunteering experiences were for the most vulnerable, those living in the grey and marginalized areas of our society, such as the homeless and migrants.

Starting from the late 1980s, Rocca began his involvement with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Rome: from 1988 to 1993, first as a volunteer and later as Head of the San Saba Dormitory.

JRS is an international Catholic organisation with the mission to accompany, serve and support refugees and forcibly displaced people, so that they may be cured, learn and determine their own future. JRS was founded in November 1980 as an institute of the Society of Jesus and officially registered as a foundation in Vatican City on March 19, 2000.

During the same period, from 1988 to 1990, Rocca was also a volunteer at the Caritas accommodation centre for minors and, from 1988 to 1991, at the Piccola Casa della Divina Provvidenza “Cottolengo” for assistance to severely disabled people.

In 1990 he graduated and three years later he became a lawyer. From 1990 until 1995 he worked as an operator and then auditor of cooperatives linked to Caritas, particularly the one called “Partire dagli ultimi” (Starting with the Last) and continued to carry out voluntary work at the Caritas legal aid centre for migrants and asylum seekers from 1991 to 1995.

From 1990 to 2003 he practised law. In particular, in the second half of the 1990s, he was one of the lawyers at the forefront in the fight against the Mafia, and for this reason he has been living under escort for five years.

In parallel with his work as a lawyer, he continued his voluntary work in the NGO Hansenian’s Ethiopian Welfare Organization (HEWO), of which he was also the Director General – for free – for a short period of time, from 2003 to 2007, with direct operations in the field.

HEWO – which is active in Ethiopia and Eritrea – is a legal reality that has no terms of comparison, made up of self-managed communities of ordinary people in difficulty who struggle together to emerge from hardship and suffering. For over forty-five years, HEWO has been providing free support services in Africa to communities of people affected by misery and neglect and by severe diseases (mainly leprosy, TB, HIV-AIDS and illnesses caused by severe nutritional deficiencies).

From 1996 to 2004, Rocca was President and Commissioner of the Public Institute of Assistance and Charity “Santa Maria in Aquiro”, and from 2001 to 2003, President of the IPAB Asilo della Patria, leading the transition from orphanages to family homes for vulnerable children. From 2003 to 2008, he remained a director of this organisation.

In 2003-2004, he specialised at the Scuola Superiore della Pubblica Amministrazione (Graduate School of Public Administration) as general manager of hospitals. In those years he received many sensitive professional assignments. In 2003, he was appointed Extraordinary Commissioner of the Sant’Andrea Hospital in Rome and then, until 2007, he served as General Manager of that hospital. In 2007 he was appointed Head of the Emergency Operations Department of the Italian Red Cross. From 2005 to 2009 he was member of the evaluation team of the National Cancer Institute – IRCSS Pascale Foundation of Naples. From 2007 to 2010 he was member of the steering committee of the National Institute for Infectious Diseases “Lazzaro Spallanzani” in Rome.

In 2008, after a brief period as Head of the Health and Social Activities Department of the Municipality of Rome, he was asked to lead the Italian Red Cross in the Commissioner and reform phase. He accepted the post of ICRC’s Extraordinary Commissioner, being proud to represent the largest voluntary organisation in Italy and the world. In 2009, during the General Assembly in Kenya, he was elected to the Board of Directors of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

In 2010, he was appointed Extraordinary Commissioner of ASL Naples 2.

In January 2013 he was elected National President of the Italian Red Cross. Again in 2013, at the General Assembly in Sydney, he was appointed to the post of Vice-President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

In spring 2015, Rocca was selected for the post of Director General of the IDI Dermatological Institute in Rome. In 2016, the volunteers of the Italian Red Cross re-elected him as National President, after completing the historic reform of the Association, which thus made it return into the mainstream of the International Movement, no longer being a public body, but an association completely back in the volunteers’ hands.

In November 2017, the General Assembly of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies elevated Rocca to the Presidency during the statutory meetings held in Antalya, Turkey. Finally, in May 2020, he was confirmed as Head of the Italian Red Cross.

During his years as a Red Cross member, he had the burden and honour of coordinating and representing the Association at national and international levels. From the conflict in Georgia in 2008, to the earthquakes in Italy (L’Aquila, Emilia, Central Italy) that followed one another over the years, to the missions to Syria during the war, to the earthquake that hit Haiti and the armed conflict in Palestine, and particularly in the Gaza Strip, to the mission to Kenya, during the very severe drought that had devastated the Turkana area, in particular, Rocca has always tried to be in the field as much as possible to understand people’s needs and be close to the Italian volunteers and operators.

Italy hosted two major international events: in 2009 the Solferino celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and in 2014 the 9th European Conference in Florence. In his capacity as Vice-President, he represented the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies on many occasions, including the UN General Assembly in New York and international meetings on migration.

Francesco Rocca has a privileged observatory on what is happening in the world, for the additional reason that – with his daily commitment – he can take action in favour of those who are vulnerable and in need.

As Italians, we are proud that Rocca represents the largest humanitarian organisation in the world, both nationally and internationally.

On the other hand, we are surprised and hurt that – at the same time – people at the height of their mediocrity are invading the media in Italy with speeches and statements that are the sum of ignorance, conceit, arrogance, boasting and inanity.