ROME – It’s now been a century and a half since the Roman police actually worked for the pope, yet despite 2020 marking the 150th anniversary of the pope’s loss of temporal power, over Christmas police officers in Rome nevertheless once again acted as the pontiff’s right arm, reaching out to the isolated and vulnerable elderly whose care is a constant preoccupation of Pope Francis.

Late on Christmas Eve, an 80-year-old man living in a rest home in the Italian town of Terni, who due to Italy’s tight anti-COVID restrictions was unable to see his children or relatives for the holidays, called the country’s emergency number to speak with police and wish them happy holidays. The operator who received the call spent several minutes speaking with the man, who thanked the police for their service.

Several hours later, in the early hours of Christmas morning, police were called to attend to a 77-year-old woman found wandering the streets in neighboring Narni.

A passerby who saw the woman, described as being in “a confused state,” made the call to police and waited with her until they arrived. Once police were on the scene, they learned that she lived alone and had left her house on foot. Her son was then called to pick her up and take her home.

Later Dec. 25, a 94-year-old man named Malavoltti Fiorenzo from the Vergato, in Bologna, called the city’s police department to say he felt lonely and wanted to share a toast with someone.

“Good morning, my name is Malavoltti Fiorenzo, I am 94 and alone at home,” he said on the call, adding, “I don’t lack anything, I’m just missing a physical person with whom I can exchange a Christmas toast.”

Fiorenzo asked if an officer was available to come for a 10-minute visit to chat with him, “because I am alone. I am 94, my children are far away, and I am depressed.”

During the visit, Fiorenzo told the two officers stories about his life, including some involving his father-in-law, Marshal Francesco Sferrazza, who commanded the Italian Arma di Porretta Terme station during the Second World War. After exchanging a toast with Fiorenzo, the officers organized a video call to his relatives.

Days earlier, police in the same area assisted another elderly person who for days was left in the cold due to a problem with the central heating in their apartment.

Similarly, at around 2p.m. Christmas Day the police headquarters in Milan received a call from a woman named Fedora, 87, who was a widow of a retired policeman.

Fedora, who said she was alone at home, called to wish the police a merry Christmas and invite a few of them over for small chat. A short time later, four officers showed up to her door and spent some time talking with her and listening to her speak about her late husband’s time working with the State Police.

Natale…con i tuoi ⭐️ ‍♂️ ‍♂️ ‍♂️ ‍♂️⭐️ Sono le 14 circa di ieri, quando Claudio, agente in servizio presso la…

Posted by Questura di Milano on Saturday, December 26, 2020

Care of the elderly has long been a priority for Pope Francis, who has shown particular concern for them during the coronavirus pandemic, which is particularly deadly for those advanced in age.

In July, he inaugurated a Vatican social media campaign called, “The elderly are your grandparents,” urging young people to reach out in some way to the elderly who are isolated due to the coronavirus, sending them a “virtual hug” through a phone call, a video call, or a personal picture or note that they send.

Just last month, Francis launched another holiday campaign for the elderly, titled, “A Gift of Wisdom,” and encourages young people to turn their thoughts to the elderly who might be lonely as a result of the coronavirus during the holiday season.

Special concern has arisen for elderly persons living in nursing homes or other care facilities, which have become breeding grounds for both COVID-19, and the loneliness caused by lengthy lockdowns where in-person visits with relatives are forbidden due to social distancing measures implemented to prevent contagion.

In Europe, which has a rapidly aging population, elderly people have been a particular source of concern, especially in Italy, where elderly make up roughly 60 percent of the populace, many of whom live alone either because they have no family, or their children have moved abroad.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the problem of lonely elderly people has been an issue Italy has had to grapple with. In August 2016, during the country’s slow summer vacation, police officers came to the assistance of an elderly couple in Rome were heard crying out of loneliness and in despair over watching negative news on television.

On that occasion, police made pasta for the couple, who said they had not received visitors in years, and were saddened by the state of the world.

On Sept. 22, the Italian Ministry for Health announced that it had formed a new commission for elderly care in light of the coronavirus pandemic, and that the Vatican’s top official on life issues, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, had been tapped as its president.

Earlier this month, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), published a message calling for a social shift in how elderly are viewed and treated in light of both the current pandemic and a notable change in demographic trends in the continent’s rapidly aging population.

In their message, the bishops offered several suggestions, including policies making life easier for families and care workers, and changes to the care system which aim to prevent loneliness and poverty among the elderly.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen