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Pope Francis visits priests, families in marginalized community

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Pope Francis visits priests, families in marginalized community

Pope Francis has made a pastoral visit to the parish of Our Lady of Hospitality on the outskirts of Rome, meeting with around 40 priests and greeting families assisted by the parish.

Amidst light rain, after about an hour of travel by car, Pope Francis arrived at the Roman parish of Our Lady of Hospitality (Our Lady of Hospitality) on Thursday afternoon, just after 4 PM.

The parish in the peripheral outskirts of Rome, nestled in the XVII prefecture covering the areas of Tor Bella Monaca, Torre Angela, Torre Gaia, and other neighboring districts. The vast urban area known as Due Torri – Villa Verde is punctuated by poverty and marginalization, and is an area where the Church seeks to work closely with residents of high-rises and public housing.

At the parish of Our Lady of Hospitality, built in 1985, hospitality is not only in the name but in the DNA of the parish. It operates a “Village of Hospitality”, far from the urban center of Rome, which consists of a complex of 12 apartments where families in housing emergencies, both Italian and foreign, live.

Residents include refugees, people living in poverty, and families who have faced eviction.”When they lose their homes,” explained the parish priest, Fr. Rocco Massimiliano Caliandro, “we take in the whole family: mother, father, children. Usually, they are separated. We keep them together for one or two years, then they go on their own.” At the end of the visit, the Pope greeted some of these families, including refugees from African countries and Ukraine.

Pope Francis was welcomed by Fr. Caliandro and Bishop Riccardo Lamba, the auxiliary bishop of the XVII prefecture. He met with around 40 priests serving in the area, and shook hands with each of them. “Have I greeted all of you?” asked the Pope as he distributed Rosary beads. He also paused for a few minutes inside the parish where Rosario and Anna were waiting, a couple celebrating 50 years of marriage.

“Which of you has had more patience?” Pope Francis asked. “I have!” exclaimed Anna and introduced him to their son, the youngest of their four, the father of one of the couple’s 8 grandchildren. The Pope also gave them a Rosary: “Pray for me.” He then moved to the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, and he remained in prayer for a few moments, making the sign of the Cross at the end.

After a coffee—“So, I don’t fall asleep,” he joked—the Pope moved to a small room where, along with the priests, he recited the prayer to the Holy Spirit chosen for the pastoral year 2023-2024. He then held a Q&A session with the priests, seated at a desk.

Filled with jokes, guidance, and reflections, the dialogue lasted an hour and a half, and was entirely focused on pastoral themes: work, sacraments, poverty, hospitality, assistance to people on the margins of society, and evangelization. It was “a very open, friendly, and family-like dialogue,” according to Bishop Lamba.

The Pope “encouraged everyone to continue with the good work they are already doing, to continue being among the people, to continuously preach the Gospel even amid difficulties. He invited them to continue in their synodal path in parishes, “which implies continuous collaboration between laity and priests.”

The sun had already set behind the dense expanse of trees in front of the parish when Pope Francis concluded the encounter. He offered an anecdote to close the meeting: that of an energetic 87-year-old lady he met in St. Peter’s Square after a General Audience. The Pope said she asked him to pray for her: “Of course, I will,” he responded. “Pray in my favor, not against me!” she quipped. “Yes, I will pray [for your good]. They are in there praying against you,” added the woman, as she smiled and pointed to the Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.

After applause and laughter, and a shared exchange of gratitude, the Pope thanked the priests for their patience. Several of them asked for a selfie or prayers for a family member or had him sign a little note, saying: “It’s for the parishioners.” The last stop of the papal visit was a meeting with the families who reside in the “Village of Hospitality.” Among them, a mother and father with two children who fled the war in Ukraine, arriving in Rome a month ago.

Arranged in a circle in the courtyard, the guests welcomed the Pope’s arrival with applause. “There he is!” exclaimed an African child, holding a photo of herself with the Pope in St. Peter’s Square. “You were small here, now you’re big,” the mother smiled. The event included a touching scene of the Pope shaking hands with a 20-year-old Asian man in a wheelchair whose legs had been amputated.

The two greeted each other wordlessly but with a smile. “Thanks for the welcome,” the Pope said before getting into the car to return to the Vatican. He also thanked a group of journalists who remained outside the parish waiting for the end of the visit: “Thanks for your presence here.”

Sarah K. Biryomumaisho is a Multimedia journalist (Broadcast & Writing) with 11 years of experience. She holds a Diploma in Business Administration from Makerere Business Institute and a Certificate in Media Management from Women in News. She completed a Course in Wikimedia in 2020, making her one of the very few Wikipedia Editors in the country. She also has a certificate in Gender Justice Reporting from The International Women's Media Foundation, IWMF. She has worked with a number of media houses including 6 Radio stations, most recently Galaxy fm 100.2 & Radio 4. She has worked with Andariya Magazine as a writer. Sarah worked as a Digital Communications consultant for the newly revived Uganda Airlines and is also a Digital enthusiast. She owns a Media Organization called TheUgPost that publishes in Uganda and has a global reach. Twitter; https://twitter.com/BiryomumaishoB

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