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Double murder shakes Rome's Chinese Catholics
Chinese in Rome fear for their future livelihoodsChinese new year celebrations in Rome (photo: Massimiliano Calamelli)
- by Alessandro Speciale, Rome
- January 26, 2012
A few hundred meters down the road, they were stopped by two men wearing crash helmets. According to police, they tried to rob Zheng's wife, but it went wrong. She escaped unhurt but Zheng and his daughter were killed by the same bullet.
This double murder was the latest in a series of violent crimes that has shocked Rome in recent months, weakening the already waning popularity of mayor Gianni Alemanno who, ironically, was elected on aÂ promise of better security for citizens.
It sparked outrage and consternation among all Romans. More than 6,000 of them crowded the neighborhood's streets for a solidarity march a few days later.
Father Michele Wu Goh, who acts as a mediator between local authorities and the Chinese community - he was called to the hospital after the murder, to try to convince Zhengâ€™s wife to accept food â€“ says he was impressed by the Romans' solidarity after the incident.
But he does not deny that it made many of the Chinese community fearful for their safety.
Born in Malaysia to a Chinese Catholic family, Fr Michele is in Rome to study theology. Together with Fr Giuseppe Zhang from Shanghai, he has been looking after a 200-strong groupÂ of Chinese Catholics since 2010.
They have been given a room in the local diocesan center, where they hold Mass in Chinese on Sundays, as well as meetings and Italian language lessons.
â€śHalf of the group are Catholic since birth, while the other half have converted since moving here,â€ť says Fr Michele. â€śAnd the community is growing; seven people are preparing to be baptized at Easter.â€ť
But the shooting of Zhou Zheng and his daughter is never far from his mind. Two members of his community live close to the scene of the murder. â€śTheyâ€™re a mixed couple,â€ť he says. â€śShe is from China and he is Italian. Theyâ€™ve been living there for 30 years but she says now she is so afraid, she'd rather not go out.â€ť
In recent decades, an influx of immigrants from North Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia has changed the face of Rome and other Italian cities. Many of the low-wage jobs have become their preserve. Chinese restaurants, 24-hour shops and hair salons have become a fixture of the city's streets.
There is a mood of dissent among Italians over apparent Chinese indifference to integration in their new country; Rome city council ordered shops in the city's ChinatownÂ to display signs and banners in Italian, not just Chinese.
This mood has escalated on occasions. In 2007, Milan's Chinatown was the scene of violent clashes when shopkeepers tried to stop police inspections of their shops. These inspections had been demanded by local Italian shopkeepers, who complained that the Chinese were ignoring Â regulations.
Franco Pittau, an immigration expert from Caritas, confirms there is a high level of anti-Chinese prejudice. He cites the fact that Zheng was carrying a large sum of money, which was immediately ascribed to under-the-counter activities.
â€śBut access to cash,â€ť he says, â€śis not necessarily evidence of ties with organized crimeâ€ť.