Pope Francis celebrated the 150th anniversary of the declaration of the city of Rome as the capital of Italy as “providential”, and invited residents to make the Eternal City a place of solidarity and peace.

The nascent Kingdom of Italy declared Rome as its capital on 3 February 1871, soon after the city fell to the Italian forces led by Giuseppe Garibaldi.

This spelled an end to papal control over Rome and the papal states.

Pope Francis called the proclamation of Rome as Italy’s capital “a providential event, which led to polemics and problems at the time. But it changed Rome, Italy, and the Church herself: a new story began.”

Providence guiding history

His remark came in a message to the opening ceremony for the 150th anniversary of the declaration of “Roma Capitale”, read out by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin.

The event was held on Monday evening at the Opera Theater, in the presence of Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella and other dignitaries.

In his message, Pope Francis quoted Pope St Paul VI – written while still Cardinal Montini – on the subject.

“It seemed like a catastrophe, and for the pontifical dominion over territory it was […]. But Providence – as we now see well – had disposed things differently, almost dramatically orchestrating events.”

Sharing joys and trials

Pope Francis went on to say Rome has changed and grown much over the course of a century and a half, and the Church has “shared in the joys and trials of Romans.”

He mentioned three historical events that illustrate how the Church and Rome have influenced each other.

The first was the 9-month Nazi occupation of the city in 1943 and 1944, during which over a thousand Roman Jews were sent to concentration camps to die.

The Pope said the Church offered refuge to many in danger of falling into their hands. This, he said, led to the fall of “ancient barriers and painful distances” between the Jewish and Catholic communities. “From those difficult times we learn above all the lesson of the undying fraternity between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community,” said the Pope.

Rome a home for all

He also recalled the Second Vatican Council – held between 1962 and 1965 – during which Rome “shone as a universal, Catholic, and ecumenical place” as it welcomed hundreds of Council Fathers, ecumenical observers, and experts.

The third event Pope Francis mentioned was a conference held in February 1974 by the Diocese regarding the “evils afflicting Rome”.

Participants in that meeting sought to help the Church listen to the poor and the peripheries.

The lesson, said Pope Francis, is that “the city must be a home for all.”

Peace through fraternity

The Pope encouraged Rome’s residents and politicians to see their city through the eyes of those who arrive seeking a better life.

“Rome is a great resource for humanity. Rome is a city of unique beauty.”

And the city, he said, must be renewed both “in openness to the world and in the inclusion of all.”

Finally, Pope Francis said the Eternal City “will promote unity and peace in the world, in the measure she is able to become a fraternal city.”

(Source: Devin Watkins, Vatican News)

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.