ROME – Since his election in 2013, it has been clear that three of Pope Francis’s passions are having a poor church for the poor; implementing what he’s called a healthy de-centralization empowering local bishops, and, to quote Ghostbusters, “crossing the streams” – meaning fostering a collaboration between the Church and at times improbable players outside of the Catholic Church.
While usually people tend to focus on one of those things at a time, on Friday a new project in Rome was presented that managed to combine all three at once.
Earlier this week, Pope Francis in a rare move made in his capacity of Bishop of Rome rolled out a new fund aimed at assisting the economic victims of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Specifically, the fund, called “Jesus the Divine Worker,” is meant to provide financial assistance to people who are either unemployed or whose temporary positions were not renewed as a result of the coronavirus, and who are therefore struggling to pay the bills.
At the June 12 presentation of the fund, Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, Vicar of Rome, said Pope Francis in creating the fund “has truly carried out a prophetic act, which he has asked us to collaborate with for its realization.”
De Donatis is fully aware of the effects of COVID-19: He contracted the coronavirus in late March and was hospitalized with the disease.
“In this time of pandemic, our bishop’s prayer was never lacking, we all saw it. His words of encouragement and his invitation to never forget anyone were never lacking, exhorting us to not allow ourselves to be infected by the virus of indifference,” the cardinal said.
“In this critical situation, in which it is the most fragile who suffer most, each one of us is called to do their part,” he said, and announced the establishment of the “Alliance of Rome,” meaning a collaboration between public institutions, third sector entities and private foundations in Rome aimed at supporting those in need because of the coronavirus until they are back on their feet.
Hence, the “crossing the streams” aspect of the initiative.
Of course – in Ghostbusters – Harold Ramis’s Egon warned his colleagues that “crossing the streams” of their ghost-catching proton guns might cause massive explosion that could wipe out humanity; yet as fans will know, in the end, “crossing the streams” is exactly what saved the day.
For Pope Francis “crossing the streams” – creating occasions for concrete collaboration between the Catholic Church and secular or state entities for the sake of a greater cause – is an approach he has consistently taken as Supreme Pontiff, despite warnings from traditionalists it could contaminate the purity of the Faith.
A starting sum of 1 million euros, slightly over $1.1 million, has been given to his fund by the Lazio Region and the City of Rome, who each contributed half, with the idea that public and private entities, religious institutions, parish communities, movements, religious and secular associations, families and individuals in Rome will each contribute as an act of solidarity with the needy.
Primary goals of the fund are to accompany around 1,800 families in need either through job placement courses, job grants and the financing of micro-entrepreneurship projects, as well as direct and immediate financial support.
Applicants must be residents of the city or diocese of Rome, and they must be in serious financial straits, earning less than 600 euros a month, or roughly $675, with an increase of 100 euros for each person who lives under the same roof.
They must be either unemployed or have significantly reduced work due to the coronavirus, and they must also demonstrate a clear desire get out of their own dire situation.
An on-call intervention model will be implemented in which those seeking help can make their request to a listening center, 100 of which are now located throughout the city of Rome.
Families approved to receive help from the fund will receive between 300 euros ($337) per month, or 600 euros for families with five or more members, for three months, which can be renewed depending on the evolution of the crisis or until funds run out for up to six months.
Some 523 volunteers were prepared for the listening centers before the launch of the fund, each of whom have been identified as “experts” in accompanying families in need. Many are professionals with backgrounds in psychology and education. Over the past few weeks, they have undergone an online formation program to learn about different measures for supporting families.
During the presentation of the fund, Auxiliary Bishop Gianpiero Palmieri said that Caritas workers at parishes will also be available to help people find the government resources that they’re eligible for, because, in his words, “you can’t give as charity something that justice defines as their right.”
A initiative aimed at involving the grassroots, the fund is a concrete example of how to be the “poor church for the poor,” enjoining average citizens to share some of what they have with those who are struggling, whether it be a one-time gift, a monthly contribution, or paying someone’s rent for a month.
It is also a reflection of Francis’s de-centralized approach to governance. Rather than creating the fund at a universal level in his capacity as pope, with each bishops’ conference compelling individual dioceses to join in, he made it a local diocesan project and entrusted it to his vicar – something that can easily be replicated in other cities and dioceses throughout the world.
Virginia Raggi, Mayor of Rome, in her remarks thanked Pope Francis for establishing the fund, and also voiced gratitude to Romans for the sacrifices they made to ensure the outbreak didn’t spread.
“We were closed in our homes, many of us lost jobs, many, especially those who had precarious work, jobs by the hour, have also lost the hope of returning to work,” she said, noting that social and economic poverty caused by COVID-19 “are two other extremely dramatic consequences of the health crisis.”
Raggi said that while there is a tendency to become selfish and to protect one’s own interests during times of crisis, there is also the tendency to care for others, which she said was an visible attitude throughout Italy’s lockdown.
“We must defeat, as Cardinal De Donatis said, the virus of indifference, even before defeating the coronavirus. This is a medial issue, it takes time, but with indifference there is no time, we must do it immediately,” she said, calling the fund “a milestone” and an act of solidarity “which contributes to solidifying the ties of our community.”
Similarly, Nicola Zingaretti, President of Italy’s Lazio Region, called the fund “an anchor of hope and salvation for those who have not or are at risk of not making it.”
Zingaretti thanked the pope for establishing the fund, and for everything “he has given in darkest moments of the stage of the virus, for his strong and reassuring presence, which really spoke to the entire world, believers and non-believers.”
Calling the fund “a just response founded on values that we share,” he said he thanked the Church of Rome for its efforts in assisting the poor and providing medical equipment during the coronavirus, saying the new fund allows all citizens to become “be active actors of solidarity.”
In the original Ghostbusters, the threat to humanity was global, with the battle being fought in New York. In a similar vein, Pope Francis is well aware that the hardships caused by the coronavirus are also global, but he’s chosen to act in his own backyard of Rome.
Not everyone can wield a proton gun, but they can still do something small that makes a big difference.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen