ROME — Just two months after paying a visit to immigrants on the Italian island of Lampedusa, Pope Francis visited a group of refugees at a Jesuit-run center in Rome today.
At the Church of the Gesù, Pope Francis met with refugees seeking asylum in Rome and the volunteers who help provide them with food, health care, social support and legal aid.
At least 1,000 people gathered outside the Astalli Center, run by the Jesuit Refugee Service, to wait for Pope Francis, who arrived at 3:30pm local time. The Holy Father met with Father Giovanni La Manna, president of the Astalli Center, as well as Cardinal Vicar of Rome Agostino Vallini and the Holy See’s Press Office director, Father Federico Lombardi.
“We are very pleased with this visit to the place where refugees live their everyday life,” Father La Manna told Vatican Radio.
“I believe that at this meeting personal experiences are the most important elements,” he said, “and so everyone will have the opportunity to tell Pope Francis what they lived through upon their arrival to Rome.”
Father La Manna said he hoped the Pope’s visit would result in “a human and spiritual experience aimed at keeping alive the hope of more refugees of having a life of true peace and serenity.”
Along with other world efforts, he voiced a desire that this visit might “help restore peace in the countries of origin and, above all, keep alive the enthusiasm of being at the service of the poor and refugees.”
He said that the Pope’s visit to Lampedusa and his prayer vigil and fasting for Syria this past Saturday are not unrelated, but form part of “a continuous process that aims to awaken the conscience of us all.”
The Astalli Center is the Italian branch of the Jesuit Refugee Service, an international network that assists refugees and forced migrants. It helped close to 21,000 people in Rome in 2012.
The center offers facilities including an Italian language school, a health facility with special attention for victims of torture, legal counseling services and a soup kitchen.
Visiting refugees on the Island of Lampedusa in July, Pope Francis stated that “their condition cannot leave us indifferent.”
“We remember that when we heal the wounds of refugees, displaced persons and victims of trafficking, we are practicing the commandment of love that Jesus has left us,” he said.
The Holy Father stated that love is practiced also “when we identify with the stranger, with those who are suffering, with all the innocent victims of violence and exploitation.”