Francis encourages homeless families in his home diocese

Francis with families

Pope Francis returns to a deconsecrated church on the outskirts of Rome, where 15 familes are living rough after losing their jobs and homes, reports The Huffington Post/Ucanews.

When it’s overcast in Tor Sapienza the sky looms ominously. It matches the large public housing projects, the sheds and the sketches of unfinished structures, that translate into architecture, the area’s sense of insecurity. We are in the eastern outskirts of Rome, just a few steps away from the Grande Raccordo Anulare (Great Ring Junction), in one of the capital’s roughest neighbourhoods.

The San Cirillo Alessandrino parish church contrasts with the rest: its new seat was inaugurated a year and a half ago, and its colours are still vivid, the garden is well looked after, and there are flower pots on the windowsills.

Not far from there, 15 Italian families live in the deconsecrated church where the parish was previously located - they occupied the building in October after losing their jobs and their homes. It is here that Pope Francis began Advent. And it is here, with the holidays coming to an end, that we are returning to see what has changed.

'That visit turned on the lights, it generated sparks', Don Marco Ridolfo, the parish priest at San Cirillo, tells us. He isn’t even 40, and he has a kind smile and bright eyes. 'I can’t go into personal details, but what I can say is that, aside from the excitement of the moment, there have been changes in peoples’ intimate life, intentions become facts, the facts of life.

'Some people have rid themselves of their shame or resignation, and after many years returned to the confessional. Some have just asked to chat with me informally, walking around the parish. And some managed after many years to simply ask for help.

Recalling the preparations still puts Don Marco in a cold sweat. 'From the start we considered Pope Francis’ visit to be a gift. Because of shyness and discretion, we hadn’t extended an invitation to him, so it came all of a sudden, as a surprise.'

It was a big responsibility for Don Marco and his co-pilot, Don Daniel, a 28-year-old Maltese priest.

'Everybody came together around us to help out. In the period leading up to the visit, and even after, many started seeing the parish as their home, and as such they took care of it. People came to clean, to decorate, to bring flowers, the way you do when you are expecting a welcome guest in your house.'

FULL STORY Francis' visit boosts homeless families living in abandoned church (The Huffington Post/Ucanews)