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Pope to meet with refugees



(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Tuesday will visit the Jesuit-run Astalli refugee centre in Rome, before going on to meet with a large group of refugees and volunteers at the Chiesa del Gesù.
The Centro Astalli is the Italian branch of the Jesuit Refugee Service, an international network that assists refugees and forced migrants.

In Rome its services include three shelters, an Italian language school, a health facility with special attention for victims of torture, legal counselling services and a soup kitchen which is precisely where the Pope is going.

Last year the Centro Astalli in Rome welcomed 21 thousand people.

Pope Francis, who has already highlighted the plight of refugees when he visited the Island of Lampedusa in July, has said that “Their condition cannot leave us indifferent…As Church, he said - “we remember that when we heal the wounds of refugees, displaced persons, and victims of trafficking, we are practising the commandment of love that Jesus has left us; when we identify with the stranger, with those who are suffering, with all the innocent victims of violence and exploitation.”

Chiara Peri who works at the Centro Astalli in Rome in the project office focusing on inter-religious issues and cultural events, spoke to Vatican Radio's Linda Bordoni about Pope Francis’ visit, but first she illustrates the vision, the mission and the services of the Centro Astalli...

Listen to Linda Bordoni's interview with Centro Astalli's Chiara Peri... RealAudioMP3

Chiara Peri explains that the Centro Astalli is the Italian branch of JRS, with a mission to serve, accompany and defend the rights of refugees and migrants all over the world.

JRS currently operates in in 50 countries; here in Italy the Centro Astalli started its activities in 1981 with a group of volunteers who set up a soup kitchen for the refugees in Rome at the time. She points out it was a very different situation to the one there is today, also because there was no specific law protecting them.

Centro Astalli – she says - developed its services and activities starting with the concrete needs of the people who arrived in Italy to seek protection. Today, as well as the soup kitchen, it also has three shelters, an Italian language school, and legal services that provide accompaniment and explanation regarding the legal procedures of refugees and forced migrants. There is also a medical center with special attention for torture victims and people who need psychiatric and psychological care. She says that last year in Rome the Centro Astalli met 21,000 forced migrants.

Apart from these services, Peri points out that “we also try to do awareness raising programmes”. She there is a programme for schools that gives young Italians the possibility of meeting a refugee face to face and hearing of his problems first hand.

Peri says the Centro Astalli’s services are focused on asylum seekers, refugees, owners of other forms of humanitarian or international protection. But she says “we use the Church definition for refugee which is broader than the Geneva Convention one and includes for example victims of natural disasters, or victims of wrong government policies”. Of course – she says – “we would never refuse a meal to anyone”.

Representing the reality, Peri says that in Rome there are always a lot of people from Afghanistan. This year - she says – there have been many refugees from Mali, Mauritania and sub-Saharan countries like Ivory Coast, Guinea with slightly less than before from the Horn of Africa, although there are a lot of Eritreans and Somalis living in Rome, and of course people from Iraq and Syrians on the increase. Also in the last month families from Egypt.

Regarding the visit of Pope Francis to the Centro Astalli, Chiara Peri, says all those involved are very happy the Pope expressed the specific will to visit. She points that that “he is coming – not to meet the workers – but the refugees themselves”.

“The Programme is this: the Holy Father will arrive at the soup kitchen during the normal opening hours – every day we serve from 400 to 450 meals – so he will go downstairs and he will sit together with a little group of refugees so he will have the opportunity to speak freely with them. After that, and after having seen the corridor where everything happens, he will go up to the Church of the Gesù where he will meet with a larger group of refugees”.

“He will listen to a couple of little speeches by them – a man from Sudan and a family from Syria ”. And “Of course we have invited all our volunteers, the ones who make everything possible”.

Peri explains that the Syrian family was chosen because they wanted to represent the present emergency, and the other refugee who will be addressing the Pope will simply be representing all refugees….




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