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Pope Francis will visit Roman parish on 'existential peripheries'

2014-01-17

On Sunday, Pope Francis will visit the Sacred Heart parish in Rome. It's located by the city's main train station, known as Termini. Over the years, the area has gained a reputation for its high homeless population. 

FR. VALERIO BARESI
Parish priest
"At first the Pope wasn't convinced about visiting this parish. Instead, he wanted to give priority to those that are not really in the center of Rome. But when he found out that we work with the youth, the poor and with refugees, he said he would definitely visit.”

It's a common sight to see people sleeping on the street, under cardboard boxes, especially at night. But at the parish, they find support to assimilate into society. Luigi is among them. He's one of the  lucky ones who have been able to find shelter at night. 

During the day, Luigi spends most of his time out on the street, and while he hopes to one day land a job, he knows it won't be easy. At 59, he suffers from a condition that limits his vision. But he says,  the fact that Pope Francis will pay a visit, is very moving. 

LUIGI GRIGOLDO
"I'd like to tell him so many things. But it's no use saying them, because he already knows what we're feeling.  It's like he sees it in our very own eyes. But really the greatest gift will be to meet him. I think Pope Francis is great and I really want to finally meet him.” 

The Salesian-run parish carries out many support programs for the poor, including refugees.  A chapter from the Missionaries of the Risen Christ assist the Salesians with educational and welfare activities. These women arrived to the Sacred Heart church four years ago, and since then, things have gotten busy.  

Nowadays, about 400 refugees depend on them.  One of them, Stephen who stopped in the now infamous island of Lampedusa, before making it to Rome. 

STEPHEN DERY
Ghanian Refugee
"I'm very happy with them because they have love for everyone here, most of them are refugees, because sometimes they have dinner for refugees here. We all gather to eat.”

SR. MARIA MERCEDES GUAITA
Missionary of the Risen Christ 
"We listen to their lives, have tea with them. Many times they'll say, this is the first time I've been offered tea since I escaped from home.  Many have seen their friends die, while they ran away. And many more have families that were killed.”

The Pope's schedule will be completely packed. He will spend about four hours, meeting several groups. In addition to the homeless, Pope Francis will meet with refugees, volunteers and parish youths. But he will also make the time to answer their questions.

In his role as Bishop of Rome, the Pope will confess five people, celebrate Mass, and greet the sick. He'll also meet with the two religious communities that look after the Sacred Heart parish.


JRB/RCA/KLH 
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