For two weeks now, the covered atrium of a famed 6th-century church in the heart of Rome has been occupied by roughly seventy immigrant and refugee families, living in what amounts to a tent city.
Those living outside the church are seeking to evade a wave of forced evictions from other public spaces currently unfolding in the Eternal City.
In the wake of another eviction at Rome’s Piazza Indipendenza on Friday, the climate at the Basilica of Santi Apostoli (“Twelve Apostles”), located adjacent to the city’s Piazza Venezia, appears to have become more fearful.
According to a Saturday report in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, whereas until recently residents of the tent city would leave the atrium during the day and allow their children to play in nearby spaces, now they’re remaining more or less constantly hunkered down.
“This is church property,” one of them told a reporter – implying faith that being on church grounds will shield them from eviction efforts by the Roman police.
In fact, that faith may not be entirely grounded, since another eviction in January took place in front of a building complex owned by the missionary order of the Monfortani Fathers, after the order itself requested a police intervention.
So far, however, the Conventual Franciscans, whose headquarters are next door, have done everything in their power to welcome the immigrants and refugees.
It’s also not entirely clear if the occupied atrium, which was an antique welcoming spot for pilgrims and is also near the Jesuit-sponsored Gregorian University, actually belongs to the church or city of Rome.
Catholic leaders in Rome have called on the government to find a long-term solution to the problems created by growing numbers of immigrants and refugees.
Recently, Auxiliary Bishop Paolo Lojudice of Rome, responsible for migrant issues in the region, offered the Church’s “availability” to promote “dialogue about a real confluence of forces, above all on the level of planning before getting to material and physical action, for the eviction problem.”
Otherwise, Lojudice said, eviction “moves the problem, but doesn’t in itself create a solution.”
Lojudice also said the problem of affordable housing for the poor is not just an immigrant and refugee issue, because there are also impoverished and homeless Italian families living in the tent city outside the Church of Santi Apostoli.
Residents so far have rejected any proposed remedies that would involve breaking families apart, even temporarily, such as assigning them to various men’s and women’s shelters across Rome.
Meanwhile, Corriere della Sera asked one young mother at the tent city if she’d like to issue an appeal to Pope Francis, well-known for his pro-immigrant stance, for help.
“Others who’ve been evicted have appealed to the pope, and some have even been able to meet him personally,” she said, smiling. “Do you think that’s gotten them a house?”