Pope accused of ignoring 120 homeless living in Rome basilica
The Pope has repeatedly called for greater care and compassion for the poor, yet 120 homeless people who have sought refuge in the pontiff's favourite church in Rome say they have received no help from the Holy See.
The group, including women with children as young as 18 months old, have been living for nine days in the shadowy margins of the magnificent Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica. The grand basilica, which dates back to the fifth century, was where Pope Francis chose to pray the day after he was elected.
The homeless inhabitants, mostly migrants from Morocco, Algeria, Bangladesh, Ukraine, Romania and South America together with a few Italians, lived normal, if modest, lives in Rome before losing their jobs and finding themselves unable to pay the rent.
Until nine days ago they were all squatting in an abandoned building in Torre Spaccata, on the grimy outskirts of the city, but were evicted by the authorities.
In desperation, they asked for shelter from the church, mindful of Pope Francis's command that cardinals, bishops and priests must pay more attention to the marginalised and the dispossessed.
But many said that they had received no food, water or help from the custodians of the imposing church, which is owned by the Holy See and lies on Vatican-controlled land a few miles from the Pope's apartment and St Peter's Basilica.
"I'm a practising Catholic but I'm very disappointed with Pope Francis," said Nelly Mero (32), an Ecuadorean immigrant, whose husband lost his job in a construction firm in Rome. She lost her place selling clothes in a market.
"I don't expect the Vatican to come up with a solution, because it is the responsibility of the city council, but he has not intervened or said one word about us," said Mrs Mero, who is living in the church with her two children, aged five and two.
Their few possessions are crammed into cheap bags and holdalls, while blankets and sleeping bags are neatly stashed behind an antique wooden confessional.
They are being left to fend for themselves and take any meals in a car park attached to one side of the basilica. The church has two public lavatories which the 120 homeless people must share.
"After we were evicted we had nowhere to go so we came here," said Amina (29), a mother of two from Senegal who has lived in Italy for nine years.
"No one will listen to us and we have nothing to eat."
Her husband lost his job in a clothing shop and the family is struggling to survive.
"The church has given us nothing – they don't want us here," she said.
"No one from the Vatican has come to talk to us and Pope Francis has said nothing about our situation," said Fusi Khelfi, an 18-year-old Algerian who has lived in Italy for 14 years.
It is not clear what the Vatican intends to do with its uninvited guests.
"We're beginning to feel the strain of their presence," Father Angelo, the custodian of Santa Maria in Maggiore, which is one of four papal basilicas in Rome, told 'La Repubblica'. "This is a place of worship which now transforms into a dormitory each night." (© Daily Telegraph, London)