San Papier, the patron saint of undocumented migrants


In Southern Italy, Catholic monotheism often turns into not-too-orthodox forms of quasi-polytheism via the worshipping of a plethora of saints, blessed people and spiritual guides. Every city, town and village has its own patron saint (San Gennaro, Saint Januarius, in Naples; Santa Rosalia in Palermo; San Nicola, Saint Nicholas, in Bari), celebrated once a year in great pomp and splendor. Then there are patron saints for specific occupations (San Giuseppe, Saint Joseph, for example, is the patron saint of carpenters) and others for specific calls or functions (Santa Lucia, Saint Lucy, is the patron saint of eyes and eyesight). It was only a matter of time until irregular migrants found their patron saint, too.

Enter San Papier, the patron saint of migrants without visas! The name is a delightful pun combining San, Italian for saint, with sans papier, French for undocumented.


The image appeared online at some point during 2009 and then was adopted during the ‘migrants’ strike’ of 1 March 2010. My favourite version is the one provided by the Comboni missionaries (Association Black and White) based in Castel Volturno, Caserta – there is even a prayer, asking for the abrogation of the crime of irregular migration…