ROME — Pope Francis surprised a neighborhood in suburban Rome on Friday afternoon by going door-to-door to bless houses.
The pope began doing monthly works of mercy during the 2015-2016 Jubilee Year of Mercy, and decided to continue the “Mercy Friday” practice even after the jubilee ended.
It is traditional in Italy during the season of Easter for the parish priest to individually bless each house in the parish – a process which can take weeks – so it was no surprise two days ago when Father Plinio Poncina, pastor of the parish of Stella Maris (Star of the Sea), posted a notice at a public housing complex that the apartments were going to be blessed.
It was a surprise when Francis knocked on the door.
Wearing a stole and holding a aspergillum to sprinkle holy water, the pope greeted the families in the apartment building, and blessed about a dozen homes.
A communiqué from the Holy See Press Office said the pope was acting “simply” as a “parish priest,” and noted that he jokingly apologized for the disturbance, but reassured them that he had respected the traditional silent resting period after lunch.
Ostia is a “frazione” – or subdivision – of Rome located on the seaside. In most ways, it functions as its own city of 100,000 people.
The communiqué note the community the pope visited “live and share some difficult realities of life on the periphery” – the area is noted for a high crime rate, and organized crime activity – and said the parish church and its adjacent football field are a center for the community, which is facing “social and existential realities which often, suffering forms of exclusion, remain on the margins.”