ROME – This year the Franciscan friars in Assisi have decided to give the proceeds from an annual fundraiser to people in financial difficulty due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, including a high number of young people now unemployed.

Donations have been received since May 1, with those wishing to contribute able to make payments either through phone calls and text messages, or directly on the fundraiser’s website, Con il Cuore, or “With the Heart,” which is the title of a major televised event put on in front of the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi as part of fundraising efforts.

The fundraiser ends on July 15.

Held Tuesday, June 9, the “With the Heart, in the name of Francis,” event was shown on Italy main television station, Rai 1, featuring Italian singer Gianni Morandi and television presenter Carlo Conti.

Tuesday’s program, sponsored by the Sacred Convent of Assisi and the Sports Credit Initiative, included music by Italian artists and spiritual reflections on solidarity and brotherhood.

Filmed live from the churchyard in front of the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, the event has been held annually for 18 years.

According to Father Enzo Fortunato, spokesman for the Assisi friars, the money raised from the campaign this year will be given to individuals and families struggling financially due to the pandemic.

“This year the recipients for all the projects (of the friars) are all those impacted by this serious crisis because of the coronavirus,” Fortunato told Crux, explaining that these are the people “who come to our Franciscan structures throughout the area.”

If someone in need knocks on the door of one of their projects, both the friars and the state are informed, as well as the pastors of parishes, who many times are able to be the guarantee “that they are truly poor, that they are in need,” Fortunato said.

At the moment, roughly 180,000,000 people are currently living below the poverty line in Italy and require some sort of assistance, he said, noting that the friars themselves assist “thousands and thousands of families.”

Though Tuesday marked the first time that there were no crowds attending the televised event, “we trust that it will be followed by a lot of people,” Fortunato said, noting that the friars typically raise around one million euros a year, and despite uncertainties surrounding the coronavirus, “the first indications are optimistic” for 2020.

The even funds three main projects, including direct financial assistance for families and small businesses that are struggling, soup kitchens and welcome centers for the poor and migrants.

In Assisi, money will be given directly to families and small businesses who cannot make it to the end of the month. Efforts were made to identify those businesses and individuals who do not qualify for assistance. After an evaluation of requests is made, direct financial assistance will be provided until the funds run out.

In Bologna, funds will be given to the Francesca Antoniano center and soup kitchen, which supports the “new poor,” including parents who currently cannot afford the rent or pay for groceries, public transport, school materials for their children, or healthcare costs.

Services provided by the center include an evening meal, a listening center, housing and a fund to help families in need. Roughly 80 percent of the families assisted by the center have suffered some form of economic loss, including many who have lost their jobs, or others whose seasonal work was suspended because of the coronavirus.

In Milan, the friars’ soup kitchen assists the homeless and marginalized, including migrants, the unemployed and those living in general poverty. Food, hygiene, medical care and social assistance are provided for people who come to the kitchen, which guarantees roughly 8,778 meals for the needy.

In 2019, the kitchen served some 14,490, with 605,772 meals served, according to information provided by the Sacred Convent of Assisi press office. Due to social distancing measures and other sanitary requirements for the coronavirus, meals are no longer served inside the cafeteria hall, but packed meals have been prepared for guests to take with them.

According to Fortunato, there are many young people, “who have lost their jobs who knock on the door of our friars, and they are from all over the nation.”

The number of young people struggling or unemployed as a result of the coronavirus are “Many, many, many,” he said, noting that a large number of them had been waiters or seasonal employees who were counting on the summer tourist season to help them “carry on.”

Right now, these young people, “are looking for other jobs, they are waiting for support from the state, they are waiting to be helped, and we hope that we can help them,” Fortunato said, voicing hope that the major papal event, the “Economy of Francis” will help bring life and jobs back to the city through tourism.

Set to gather some 2,000 young economists and entrepreneurs from 115 around the world, the event was originally scheduled for March 26-28 in Assisi, with Pope Francis attending the final day. However, it has been delayed, and is now slated for Nov. 19-21, with the pope once again closing the 3-day conference.

Fortunato said he believes the event will help revive the local economy, while also “respecting all the health safety norms.”

Fortunato said the friars have a “very good” relationship with the people who ask for their help. “They are practically children in our convents, pilgrims in our convents,” he said, noting that the friars provide a glimmer of hope for those experiencing the “traumatic” fallout from COVID-19.

“This reminds us of St. Francis,” he said, adding, “as long as we have time, we do good.”

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