The Holy Father has just done for the first time something that his predecessors were often wont to do – make a pastoral visit to one of the parishes of the Diocese of Rome. You may remember that when he appeared on the balcony after his election he emphasised the importance of the Diocese of Rome and his role as its bishop, as well as talking of the necessity of evangelising ‘this beautiful city’.
The parish that the Pope visited – and I reckon nothing this Pope does is by accident – just happens to be in Prima Porta. It is called St Elizabeth and St Zachary, and this is its not very informative website, in Italian. Mind you, they have a facebook page, which can be seen here and there is also a Wikipedia page too.
As you can see, the parish is very modern, and of recent construction. Thereby hangs a tale. Prima Porta is a suburb of Rome that has very few facilities. I went there some years ago, and there were no pavements and no street lights, just lots of blocks of flats, built without the necessary infrastructure, and probably without planning permission, as is almost always the case in what is called la periferia di Roma. Hence, though people may have been living in this part of Prima Porta for some time, they will have been living without a Church of their own until the foundation of this parish in 1985, and the building of the church in 2007.
The anti-clericals in Rome love to write ‘meno chiese, piu case’ on walls in the city (‘fewer churches, more houses’), but the Church believes you can in fact have both, and has long campaigned against the housing shortage and for the building of new churches in the periferia, which is where the tourists never go, and where most Romans now live.
The periferia is not a nice place. If you go out to places like Tor Bella Monaca, you see that Rome is substantially a Third World city, a bit like Nairobi, with all the same problems, though not to the same degree. The social problems in these soulless suburbs are considerable, and these places are in dire need of evangelisation. So, the Pope, in choosing to go to Prima Porta, is practising what he preaches. He is showing us that we need to evangelise and that we need to start in difficult and challenging places.
And what shall we say to people, as we try to evangelise them? Again we could do well to follow the Pope’s example. He spoke about the necessity of praying to the Madonna! Once more, the Holy Father shows us that he is keen to see the continuance and in some cases the revival of traditional devotions. May is now ending, and it would be good to reflect on just how often in this month we have all prayed to the Madonna in private and in public. One also sees that the Pope heard confessions too. Clearly that is something he wants to encourage as well.
As for all those who say that traditional devotions and confession are not the way to go – the Pope does not agree with you. As for me, I am with the Pope on this one!