Reportage. The Roma family being tormented by fascists in a Roman neighborhood was invited to meet the Pope on Thursday. ‘We dream that Italy will experience an awakening of humanity.’

‘I stand with you,’ Pope Francis tells Roma subjected to fascist hate

After being attacked and insulted by the CasaPound fascists who have infested neighborhoods on the outskirts of Rome, a Roma family was invited to the Lateran Basilica to meet with the Pope during his meeting with the dioceses of Rome, featuring bishops, priests, men and women from religious orders and lay people involved in parishes and religious associations in Rome, organized under the slogan of “listening to the cry of the city.”

It was a simple gesture by Pope Francis, but one with powerful political significance, following the actions of the Vicar General of Rome, Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, who—through his emissaries, the Auxiliary Bishop for Eastern Rome, Monsignor Gianpiero Palmieri, and the director of Caritas Rome, Don Benoni Ambarus, who both went to Casal Bruciato on Wednesday—invited “the Roma family that, in recent days, has fallen victim to racist threats and insults” to the Lateran Basilica, as we read in the statement by the Vatican Press Office.

Last night, just before the diocesan meeting at the Basilica, Francis met and spoke with Imer and Semada Homerovic. He urged them to “resist,” denouncing “the xenophobia and racism on the rise in some parts of the city.” Later, during the diocesan meeting itself, Bergoglio also added that “populism is rising, and sowing fear.”

“With this gesture,” said the Vatican Press Office, “the Pope wanted to express sympathy and solidarity for this family and the condemnation of all forms of hate and violence.”

The day before, Caritas Rome had issued a strongly worded statement against the fascists from CasaPound, without naming them explicitly. “For three days, a Roma family with 10 children has been held hostage by a group of extremists who are exploiting suffering to sow hatred. This situation is intolerable.” Caritas also urged “the authorities to intervene in the most appropriate ways to support the integration process of this family and many other families, and to prevent such incidents from ever happening again.”

Pope Francis also spoke about the events in Casal Bruciato on Thursday morning at the Vatican, when he presided over a prayer meeting sponsored by the Migrantes Foundation and which was attended by over 500 Roma and Sinti. This event had been planned for some time, and it is only through coincidence that it has gained such relevance in view of the news of the day.

“I stand with you,” Francis told the attendees. “And when I read something bad in the newspaper, I’m telling you the truth, I’m suffering. Today,” he added, referring to the events in Casal Bruciato, “I read something bad, and I am suffering, because this is not civilization.” He called on them to avoid nurturing thoughts of “vengeance” and “resentment”: “When resentment comes, let it go, history will do you justice later on.” That is even more important, he added, because “in Italy, there are organizations that have mastered vengeance. You understand me, don’t you? A group of people who are able to create a system of vengeance, who live according to omertà: that is a group of criminals.”

This event marked the second occasion when a large group of Roma and Sinti people have been invited to the Vatican and received by a Pope. The first took place on June 11, 2011, when Benedict XVI met with 2,000 Roma, Sinti, manuches, kale, yenish and travelers from all over Europe, on the occasion of the anniversary of 150 years since the birth of the only Roma saint, Blessed Zeffirino Giménez Malla, of Spanish origin, and 75 years since his martyrdom during Franco’s civil war. A smaller precedent took place in 1965, when Paul VI met with a group of Roma in Pomezia just before the closing of the Vatican II Council.

During the meeting at the Vatican with the Roma community, three Roma women spoke, Dzemila, Miriam and Negiba, who are living on the outskirts of Rome. “Some of us live in rented apartments, in public housing, others in what are called ‘nomad camps,’ which are nothing more than slums, ghettos, where our families are segregated by municipal institutions on the basis of ethnicity,” the women explained, recounting their daily struggles in accessing healthcare, education and administration services, which are made worse by “discriminatory policies” and the “recent norms, enacted by those who are called to govern, which make obtaining legal status more difficult for many of our families, condemning whole families to invisibility, who, although they are of foreign origin, have been living in our country for decades.”

And still, they concluded, “we dream that Italy will experience an awakening of humanity. We dream of an Italy that would embrace differences, one which would consider itself fortunate on account of all the differences and cultures that make it up.”

“It’s true, there are second-class citizens,” concluded Francis. “But the real second-class citizens are those who want to throw people away: they are the second-class ones, because they don’t know how to embrace. They throw out, discard, and they live for discarding. They live with the broom in their hand trying to push others out. Instead, the true path is that of brotherhood.”

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