August 21, 2014
Homeless occupy Santa Maria papal basilica ahead of Francis visit
The Santa María Maggiore basilica is home to the remains of popes Clemente VIII, Pablo V and Pío V among other pontiffs. Over the past week, it has become a refuge for around 50 families that have lost their homes to the European crisis.
“We are here because we have been told that the Chursh is the house of God and no one can be kicked off from it,” one of the 120 people occupying the papal temple told reporters covering the story at the Vatican.
The Italian newspaper La Repubblica , for instance, quotes father Angelo, who is responsible for the church’s sacristy, saying the basilica “lacked a room or space to shelter them.” “This is a place for worship but in the night it turns into a bedroom,” the priest added.
The homeless families were evicted on June 3 form the Torre Spaccata building in southern Rome which they have been occupying from April 7. Italy is currently struggling with 40 percent of unemployment among youngsters and 26 percent of poverty in most vulnerable areas.
City social workers had sought to transfer women and children to nearby family houses but they reject that possibility as they want to stay along with the rest of their relatives.
“Situated on the summit of the Esquiline Hill, St. Mary Major is the only patriarchal basilica of the four in Rome to have retained its paleo-Christian structures. Tradition has it that the Virgin Mary herself inspired the choice of the Esquiline Hill for the church's construction. Appearing in a dream to both the Patrician John and Pope Liberius, she asked that a church be built in her honor on a site she would miraculously indicate,” the Vatican says in its website about the Santa Maria basilica that Pope Francis - who has focused his messages on the need to step up global efforts against poverty ever since he was elected to head the Roman Catholic Church last year -, will be visiting on June 19 to take part in the Corpus Domini procession.