A few blocks from Piazza Venezia, in the heart of Rome, is the Astalli Center. This afternoon, Pope Francis visited this welcoming place for refugees, that feeds over 450 people every day.
Upon his arrival, the Pope was surrounded by people. Pope Francis greeted the refugees from various nationalities who were on line to enter the dining hall for lunch.
On July 8th, the Pope visited the Italian island of Lampedusa, situated between Africa and Europe, to pray for the thousands of refugees who have died in innumerable shipwrecks. In the island, he prayed, blessed the boats, laid a wreath of flowers, and above all, called attention to the world on the plight of refugees.
In his visit to the Astalli Center, the Holy Father wished to follow the same path as those who enter the country, entering through the reception desk, then going down a narrow stairway that leads to the dining room, as well as visiting the infirmary, which each of the refugees do upon their arrival. In 2013, over 21,000 people sought refuge in the center. The center was founded in 1981 by the Jesuits who wished to aid those escaping the sad realities of war, violence and hunger.
A man from Cameron who was a the center told a local news station that he was with his family in the dining hall when Pope Francis arrived. “He gave us courage and told us to go forward and trust in Jesus. He ate some sweets with us and drank the the Argentenian drink, mate. I was waiting to see him wearing red shoes but his were very normal. I am African and a Catholic; this was an unforgettable experience, I have always wanted to see the Pope. I hope to have, as Pope Francis told us, the courage to go forward from here on out.”
Several days earlier, the Holy Father called the director of the Astalli Center, Fr. Giovanni La Mann, who sent him a letter inviting him to visit. The Pope told him that he would visit the center on Tuesday. “We are very happy,” Fr. La Manna said, “for this visit, where refugees live their daily lives, which is comprised of a meal, legal, social and medical help. This is a spiritual experience for them.”
In this time the center has experienced an influx of Syrian refugees, as well as from several diverse areas. In this sense, the Astalli Center is somewhat of a seismograph that indicates which areas of the world are experiencing the most difficulties.
Among them are many Colombians who have escaped, displaced by guerilla warfare and violence in their country. In the Astalli Center, a young Colombian woman works there, Isabel, who stated that she had no choice by to escape, displaced by the violence of the guerrilla.
The first port of entry is the airport where many enter the country with tourist visas, which is customary for many Latin Americans. Other in more dire situations, will go by boat to the coastal areas, such as the island of Lampedusa and in many other maritime areas in Europe. Once in Italy, they have the joy of being able to enter. Then there is the second welcoming: where they seek help with their documents, medicines and necessities, until they integrate with the social life or head to other European countries where they have relatives.
The Pope’s visit lasted for an hour and a half and he was greeted by a throng of people wishing him well as he left the center.
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On ZENIT’s webpage:
For the full translation of the Holy Father’s address at the Astalli Center, go to: