A promise kept

2013-08-27 L’Osservatore Romano

Pope Francis's journey to the existential outskirts also passes through the centre of Rome. At no. 14/a Via degli Astalli, between the Capitoline Hill and the Church of the Gesù a small green door is opened every day to welcome hundreds of people who have fled from countries at war. It is the headquarters of the Centre for refugees and those seeking asylum which the Jesuits opened in 1981 and which is known to all as the “Astalli Centre”. The Pope will visit it next 10 Nella sede del centro Astalli a RomaSeptember – a little more than a month since his journey to Lampedusa – keeping a promise he made shortly after his election. On 6 April, in fact, he telephoned Fr Giovanni La Manna, the Centre's President and, especially, animator, who had written to invite him. “He assured me that he would come”, the religious recalls, “but he did not yet know when. The other week he telephoned me once again. In exactly the same way, without needing to have himself announced. And he gave me the date. We are now waiting only to perfect the arrangements”.

Fr La Manna, how did the refugees you help at the centre take the news of his visit and what are their expectations?

When the news began to circulate there was no surprise. They expected it because immediately after receiving his first telephone call I had told them that the Pope would be coming as soon as he could and that in the meantime he sent them his greetings. The world of refugees is a world that catches one off one's guard, that one can never know completely. This is the reason why I don't want even to attempt to interpret their expectations. They must feel free in the Pope's presence; and our task is solely to encourage this encounter. Many of them of course still remember the experience in Lampedusa when a small group of refugees on the dock managed to cluster round the Pope.

What is the situation of refugees here in Rome?

There is less poetry here than in Lampedusa. Rome is a second landing place. There is the difficulty of daily life that consists of so much bureaucracy and constant shortages due to a crisis for which the lowliest pay the highest price. Indeed, the resources we would like in order to give a dignified response to the refugees' needs are not always available.

Is it solely a problem of financial resources?

No. We have lost our sense of community. When refugees arrive in Rome they arrive in a place where there are no points of reference. And if a person in difficulty finds him- or herself without any reference point his situation deteriorates.

Piero Di Domenicantonio