Christian leaders, local government officials and humanitarian organisations raised a cry in late January after Italy’s anti-immigration interior minister ordered the closure of the Centre for Asylum Seekers where Pope Francis celebrated Holy Thursday Mass in 2016 and washed the feet of refugees.
The first 30 asylum-seekers were transferred from the center at Castelnuovo di Porto, about 15 miles north of Rome on 22nd January.
‘Lives frayed once again. Souls, now with bags on their backs, treated like postal packages,’ is how the Italian bishops’ daily newspaper, Avvenire, described the scene.
Drawing attention to the refugee situation in Italy, Pope Francis met early on 23rd January with young refugees before leaving the Vatican to fly to Panama for World Youth Day. The young men and women are being assisted by the Jesuit Refugee Service’s Centro Astalli in Rome. No mention was made of Castelnuovo.
Matteo Salvini, Italy’s interior minister and vice prime minister, tweeted that ‘we are dismantling the business’ of refugee welcome and assistance and that the protests over what was happening at Castelnuovo demonstrate how special interests and ‘a lot of money’ are at stake.
Picture: Pope Francis washes the foot of a refugee during Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper at the Centre for Asylum Seekers in Castelnuovo di Porto, about 15 miles north of Rome on 24th March 2016. The pope washed and kissed the feet of refugees, including Muslims, Hindus and Copts. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano, handout).