(Source: CD/Vatican News)
It is not surprising that social services and assistance projects of all sorts pop up at the beginning of summer in Italy in an effort to accompany the many elderly people left alone in the cities during the hot months of July and August when families go on holiday and support systems close.
Pope Francis does not forget those who are alone and in need, as demonstrated by a personal telephone call he made to a Rome parish priest of the suburban Corviale area, one of those “geographical peripheries” that is also very much an “existential periphery” at the heart of his apostolate of inclusion.
Father Roberto Cassano, the parish priest of Saint Paul of the Cross Church in the Corviale territory, told Vatican Radio of his surprise and joy on Wednesday evening when he answered a phone call and immediately recognized the voice of Pope Francis.
“When the Pope made a pastoral visit to our parish (on 12 April 2018) I told him about how we have set up live-streamed broadcasts to be close to the community, and I asked him for a blessing,” he said, adding that he certainly wasn’t expecting that providential call during the last broadcast before the summer holidays.
The Corviale landscape is sadly renowned to Romans because of the so-called Serpentone (Big Snake) cement agglomerate that winds its way through the suburb for more than a kilometre.
The mega-complex, built in the 1970s, has become the degraded abode of a suffering humanity that includes elderly people, migrants, families with social problems and many poor people who cannot afford rent and have illegally occupied apartments and other spaces.
It is to them that Pope Francis’s thoughts and blessings are directed at a time in which attention is elsewhere.
Father Cassano said he and his fellow priests were trying to set up the live-streaming, “but nothing was working!” The phone rang, he continued, and as soon as he realized who was at the other end, he managed to connect to the platform so everyone could listen.
“It was an emotional moment for all of us,” he said, to know that the Holy Father still remembers us from the visit he made in 2018.
He said he even remembered a conversation he had with a little boy who had recently lost his father.
Above all, Father Cassano said, the Pope asked us not to leave the weakest members of our community alone, especially the elderly.
He then went on to explain that his flock is a very special one, with many needs and frailties.
“As a parish, we try to be as close as possible to elderly people who are alone. During the lockdown we telephoned them often to make sure they were ok and to find out what they needed,” he said.
Through social media, he continued, we celebrated Mass together and offered spiritual assistance.
“With our live-streamed programmes we tried to keep people company,” he said.
One aspect of the Pope’s telephone call that struck him in particular, Father Cassano concluded, was his plea for prayers: “He repeatedly asked us to pray for him, and so together with all the other priests, we are inviting our parishioners to say a prayer every day for our beloved Pope: that the Lord may sustain him and look after him.”
Francis donates 25,000 euros to World Food Programme
Meanwhile, in other news from the Vatican today, Pope Francis, continuing his many gestures of closeness in recent times amid the Covid-19 crisis, has donated 25,000 euros to the World Food Programme (WFP).
Announcing the Pope’s donation on Friday, the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development said in a statement that it is “an immediate expression of the Holy Father’s closeness” to people affected by the pandemic and those “engaged in essential services in favour of the poor.”
The Holy Father made this donation through the Dicastery in collaboration with the Holy See’s Permanent Representative to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP).
The recent donation is also “a paternal gesture of encouragement” to the WFP and to other countries that provide support for integral development which “combat social instability, food insecurity, growing unemployment and the collapse of the economic systems of vulnerable nations.”
Pope Francis has continually lent his support to the fight against Covid-19. He recently donated 35 ventilators to support countries hard-hit by the crisis, especially those with poor health systems.
Other monetary donations he has made specifically during the Covid-19 crisis amount to almost 2 million Euros.