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A white coat appears among the hovels

· Pope Francis visits a shantytown and celebrates in the parish of St Michael the Archangel ·

From the metal door a white overcoat appeared: “It’s the Pope! It’s the Pope!”. A visit you wouldn’t expect. A ray of sunshine in a life of hardship. Before arriving at the parish of St Michael the Archangel in Rome’s Pietralata neighbourhood for a scheduled visit on Sunday afternoon, 8 February, Pope Francis wished to stop at the ‘Rainbow’ camp at Ponte Mammolo, a shantytown on the north-eastern outskirts of Rome, near the Aniene River.

Accompanied by Don Aristide Sana, St Michel’s parish priest, Francis arrive shortly before 4:00 pm at the camp which accommodates displaced and itinerant people, assisted by volunteers of the community of St Egidio. Once the initial shock had dissipated, the Pontiff was literally enveloped by the embrace of the poor. Entire families, emotional and incredulous, appeared from the simple cottages. Children encircled him. The Pope asked ¿Quién habla castellano? (Who speaks Castilian?), and a group of Latin Americans responded with a boisterous ¡Todos! (Everyone!). Francis then stopped to exchange a few words with each one, and to give a caress to the little ones. He then invited everyone to pray the Our Father together, and concluded with a blessing. At the camp exit the Pontiff met a Ukranian family and again wished affectionately to stop for a few minutes with them. He told them: “I pray every day for peace in your country”.

And thus — with the simplicity of a caring gesture of attention to those who have had to leave their homeland to toil in a foreign country to rebuild their future — began Pope Francis' afternoon in Rome. No lofty discourses are necessary. The power of a gesture goes way beyond words.

Maurizio Fontana




St. Peter’s Square

Dec. 14, 2019