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Pope expresses concern for Roma seeking refuge in Rome basilica

By on Monday, 25 April 2011

The Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Isla nd Catholic)

The Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Isla nd Catholic)

Benedict XVI has sent a top Vatican official to the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls to convey his concern for a group of Roma who had sought refuge in the church after their camp was bulldozed by the city of Rome.

Fr Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said that Archbishop Fernando Filoni, who is in charge of the general affairs section of the Vatican Secretariat of State, had gone to “express the closeness of the Holy Father to the group of Roma”.

About 100 Roma entered the basilica courtyard and the church on April 22, Good Friday, after city officials dismantled their camp on the edge of Rome. The camp was one of four bulldozed during Holy Week, displacing close to 1,000 people, including children, said the Rome diocesan charity, Caritas.

Caritas Rome, working with a private charity, found temporary accommodation for the group in the early evening on Easter Sunday, Fr Lombardi said. First, however, the Roma ate an Easter lunch on the lawn outside the basilica.

According to Italian news reports, there were moments of tension late on April 23 when the Vatican police, who patrol the basilica and the property surrounding it, opened the basilica for the faithful to attend the Easter Vigil, but tried to keep a small group of Roma out of the church itself, directing them instead to an adjacent room set aside for them.

“The behaviour of the Vatican gendarmes was always proper and humane,” Fr Lombardi said. They worked closely with officials from Caritas and Rome public safety officers, he said.

Fr Lombardi said he hoped the temporary accommodation arranged by Caritas would be the “prelude to a stable and adequate” arrangement.

Social service agencies and human rights groups particularly criticised Rome’s mayor, Gianni Alemanno, for ordering the Roma camps to be dismantled without providing for the people who would be made homeless by their destruction.

After Caritas found housing for the group from St Paul’s, Mr Alemanno issued a statement thanking the Diocese of Rome, but also saying the city would continue to dismantle camps erected without permits and that it would not provide alternatives for them because that could encourage more Roma and other homeless people to come to Rome.

  • Memory-of-Forever

    as always, the Church has to deal with what the rest of humanity throws aside not caring…. and in the end somehow people accuse the Church for the wrongdoings of the world.

  • Anonymous

    Child rape does stick in the mind much more than care for displaced Roma.

    I do get annoyed at the media for painting the Church in one light only, and then forgetting all the humanitarian work, charity and compassion the Church does. This is the way the media covers everything unfortunately – it is the nature of the material humans want to consume – so condensed that it starts to lack full meaning.

    What I, and I believe all Catholics, should reserve their anger for are the Child abusers and rapists within the Church, and the Priests, Arch-Bishops and Cardinals that covered up the abuse. That’s were we should direct our fire. I have read some of the court cases, and what has been going on is truly evil.

  • Newsreader

    The legal system, in the US and in the West in general, because of its inherently adversarial nature, is not primarily concerned with truth and justice. It is civilized form of controlled revenge and retribution. This does not mean that they never get it right, or that truth never comes out, but in highly controversial (and lucrative) cases it more likely than not that the truth is not going to be fully uncovered. The loser will be forced to pay money, but that very often does not coincide with culpability.

    For example, none of the trials approached these (often 30-40 years old) cases with a historical mindset to determine moral culpability, not on the part of the actual perpetrators but on the part of the so-called organizers of cover-up.

    Therefore, what you reading in trial transcripts is the product of an adversarial mindset and an adversarial system. The fact is that the terrible phenomenon of child sexual abuse, disturbing as it is, is very much part of every society:

    For example, in the US 25% of girls and 16% of boys are sexually abused prior to reaching age 18 (Finkelhor, at al., 1990). According to Vogelnatz, Wilsnack, and Harris (1999), child sexual abuse among girls in the US ranges between 21% – 32%.

    According to the March 22, 20101 media release: “Sexual Misconduct Continues to Plague US Schools,” 10% of children will experience sexual misconduct by a school employee during their academic career.

    In the United Kingdom, according an estimate by the Adult Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Network, 25% of males and 33% females experienced sexual abuse prior to the age of 18.

    In India, according to the 2007, 13-state National Study on Child Sexual Abuse, by the Ministry of Women and Child, UNICEF and Save The Children, 21% of children experience severe sexual abuse. (Statistics regarding child sexual abuse are on average comparable in other countries.)

    The Catholic Church has become a good punching (and money) bag (and yes, the abusers have to be held accountable!), but if society would be really interested in preventing child sexual abuse, they would pay at least as much attention to what is going on in our society today, as what was going on 20-40 years ago in the Catholic Church. The fact that they (the media, the lawyers) don’t do that, their motivations and actions become at least questionable.

  • Memory-of-Forever

    Paul, I do agree that abuse is disgusting and sticks to mind…. but the media, (and everyone else), were having a field day with it, as if the Catholic Church is an international lair of pedophiles who gather once a week to discuss how many kids were abused. There is faaaar less abuse in this church than anywhere else. Since the typical pedophile is determined to be white male, usually MARRIED…. I don’t see anyone screaming and pointing at ever white married man with kids how he is a pedophile. While I refuse that the church has even 1 case of abuse…. it is a sad, extremely sorrowful reality of life. Sadly, being a priest used to be a “job” back then… like Pope Benedict said:”we shall have a much smaller but purer church.”!

  • Thomas M.P.

    The whole of the Western and the European Community who boast of being Christians of various denominations, with rich Christian values, have over the centuries instituted various rights called Human Rights, Animal Rights etc. etc. And these rights have become international laws and have been enforced by the UN under the dominating influence of the European and similar communities. The Catholic Church is very much a part of such movements. I have one simple question which you should answer to yourselves and to your conscience and to your God. Have you ever thought of giving the Roma Community at least the rights you give to animals? They have lived in your countries and continents for more than a thousand years and you have never assimilated them into the mainstream and you are constantly dismantling them from everywhere. (Most of them look European today; not because they lived there for many centuries or because of the climate, but as a result of sexual exploitation, over the centuries which can be proved by DNA test, I bet.) What efforts have you done to recognize them as equals to yourselves? I live in a Hindu country. This had been the spate of the lower castes and tribes in my country for thousands of years. But the Christian influence here has been bringing the despised and rejected castes and tribes into the mainstream in the modern times. The general public and the various provisions of the various laws had been giving them more rights than the upper castes to uplift them. And we are very happy that the law is protecting them and bringing them up. (Of course there are some disgruntled elements who constantly complain against such legal protection, but the majority of the people ignore such complaints.) The place where I live is a reserved constituency which means the Member of Parliament of the Union of India (Lok Sabha) can be elected only from a member of the Tribal community. This is a reserved constituency. (There are many such reserved constituencies in India.) And as a Member of the Parliament since he has enormous power, he has been able to bring to the forefront the deprived members of his community. More than fifty percent of the government employees in this territory (of about 1600 sq. k.m.) are Tribal. And there are many such places throughout India. There are so many doctors, engineers, businessmen, industrialists etc from the deprived and socially outcast communities because of the extra benefits the government provides them. The upper caste people cannot buy land or property from the deprived classes unless the government gives special permission (so that the lower castes are protected against exploitation.) The deprived class in India have the rights of a minor (against exploitation.) In India if you and a member of the lower castes have a fight, you are sure to land in jail because there is a law called Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. You can download this act from the Net. The government has reserved seats for the education of the tribal and lower caste people in higher studies like various fields of Engineering, Medicine, etc. Jobs are reserved for them in various categories. In government schools, their education is free and compulsory. Now in private schools the government has made it mandatory for reservation of the 25 percent of the total seats for free education of such deprived classes from this year onwards. (I myself run a run a private school and have received the order from the government last month.) In government schools the deprived classes get free books, free uniform, free transport (where required) and free midday meal. In addition they also get a stipend (i.e. pocket money.) If a person from these communities have to travel across India for any purpose, they have many concessions in the Railway (the whole of Railway in India is government-owned) or State-run buses (all the Federal or State Governments have their own transport system) etc. If a poor country like India can do so much to bring the deprived classes into the mainstream, what are you Christian countries doing? Please give the Roma Community equal opportunities. If not, at least give them the rights you give to animals. Examine your conscience to see whether you practise the Christian values you think you practise.

  • Memory-of-Forever

    before starting to scream about the roma…. my friend comes from bulgaria…she said the roma there have been given free housing units, two months later, they turned them into a crappy place with fire holes inside the house… yes, they made fire in the house!! from the many slavic people I know… all of thim think lowly of the Roma…they say their countries have tried, but the Roma don’t care! you can’t fix what doesn’t want to be fixed. the Church has enough problems on its hands…. where are the great nations to help the roma,rather than making them the responsibility of a church who already helps the whole world… you know where the christian values of that church are? in the millions, even billions of people helped every year! go on google, check who the first charity organization in the world is….then come teach the church about christian values!

  • Thomas M.P.

    Equality is a status of the mind. It takes people a few generations to understand. When in our place more rights were given to the deprived classes, there were constant clashes, fights, quarrels and murders, which was the result of inferiority complex and superiority complex. It really hurts the ego of people when anyone feels that they are less than others. This hurt-feeling naturally tuns into violence and rejection. This in turn results in social unrest and badly affects those who give rather than those who take. But a generation or two later, the deprived class get their own self-respect and automatically feel important and come into the mainstream. Such feelings take a few generations to change all over. It is not like putting on a light. Don’t expect immediate result. During the transition stage you should expect anything and bear with it. It may take even a few centuries. So, you should have patience. I mean umpteen patience. You shouldn’t expect positive results in a lifetime, but after many generations.