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Caritas of Rome remembers the Pact of the Catacombs,
“A church that is poor and a servant of the poor”

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As part of the celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of the Pact of the Catacombs on September 20, a group of poor people connected to Caritas of Rome made a visit to the Catacombs of St. Domitilla to remember the commitment of forty two bishops near the end of Vatican II on November 16, 1965.

They received a tour of the Catacombs before attending a Mass there. The director of the Catacombs, SVD Brother Uwe Heisterhoff, joyfully welcomed everyone and recalled that "throughout the centuries, places like the catacombs have strengthened the faith and given hope to many generations of Christians." The group was accompanied by Brazilian men and women religious and Don Enrico Feroci, the director of Caritas who presided over the Eucharist, followed by lunch at the Generalate of the Divine Word Missionaries and an afternoon with a fraternal gathering.

P. Arlindo Pereira Días, SVD, a member of the Organizing Committee for the Celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Pact of the Catacombs (the JPIC Commission of the Union of Male and Female Superiors Generals, SEDOS, and Divine Word Missionaries) said that this gesture wanted to do three things: “First, it offers the group the possibility to visit the Catacombs. Second, it helps them to feel that they are part of the common mission of the Church. And third, to thank God for the efforts of many bishops, religious and laity worldwide over the last 50 years for 'A church that is poor and a servant of the poor'. This is according to the invitation of the Second Vatican Council, which is reinforced by the call of Pope Francis to lay down our lives, talents and time to the service of the poor today, especially in Europe with so many refugees and immigrants.”

The Neapolitan Zuloro Angelo, a member of the organizing team and one of the people who uses the facility for the poor here said “It was an opportunity to learn about the history of Rome and to spend a beautiful day together.” With respect to the contents of the program, Angelo said that they “would be worth reading in liturgical celebrations.” He concluded, “It is part of a dream that Pope John XXIII realized with Vatican II, to have a servant church that is stripped of worldly things, so that it can be closer to the poor... It is an objective that has been lost over the last 50 years and deserves to be taken up again... Now Pope Francis speaks the same language and is using the same gestures to push the church to come out to meet those who suffer.”

Sister Loiri Lazarotto (Superior General of the Lurdinas Sisters), Sister Marinei Peçanha Alves and other sisters helped to prepare lunch. A volunteer of Ostello D. Luigi di Liegro, Sister Marinei stressed that “Within the various celebrations of the 50th anniversary, making a historic comeback with a representative of the poorest group in Rome was one of the highlights of the celebrations this year. Just like the pact before, a church of the poor and for the poor.” Asked about the reasons that a General Councilor spends time volunteering despite her busy schedule, Sister Marinei responded, "This type of volunteering makes a lot of good for my service in the General Council, as it helps to keep my feet on the ground and feeds my missionary spirituality in order to not lose sight of the interests of the poor and the excluded; after all, our mission should preferably lead towards them!"

One of the surprises of the day was the presence of Sister Cristina Bove Roletti, the Pastoral de Rua Belo Horizonte (Brazil) and National Coordinator of the Street People Ministry. She came to Rome for the International Symposium on the Street Pastoral promoted by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People 13-17 September 2015. "Besides fraternal and solidary encounter with the homeless of Rome, coming Catacombs was an opportunity to redo my personal commitment to continue the struggle for a better world. Cristina stated that she finds more and more that it is a "global phenomenon and it is the result of an unjust economic system that imposes itself all over the world."

"The poor are our flesh," says Director Enrico Feroci

Interview with Don Enrico Feroci, director of Caritas Rome

What is the significance of going to the Catacombs of Domitilla to celebrate this "Church of the poor and for the poor"?

Don Enrico: The document called Pact of the Catacombs was signed fifty years ago where the importance and centrality of the issue of the poor in our reflection is underlined and associated with the Church. Thinking about this reality, we recalled the gesture that cause Saint Francis to search for the leper, embraced him and kissed him. It was not an external factor nor an act of mortification. It is not because he was afraid. He did it because he felt the importance of the excluded. It is as if they are part of himself. Since the leper, the excluded, is hidden and in obscurity, why should I pay attention to him? It is because he is flesh of my flesh; he is my reality. The Pact of the Catacombs helps us to understand that the poor are not simply a sociological reality to which we must reach out, but part of our body; missing them, our body is sick. Therefore, the Pact of the Catacombs leads us to reflect on our identity and where the presence of God is in us, in the Church and in the world. We need to bring the poor into our hearts, to dedicate our lives to them; it is as if we redirect our minds to Christ who is present in them and in ourselves. Without them, we ourselves, become needy and poor.

Looking to the Year of Mercy, what specific actions can religious or Christian communities do in this regard?

Don Enrico: When Pope Francisco announced the Year of Mercy, it brought to mind the memory of some words that are characteristic of our history, of our biblical and liturgical tradition. I refer to a very beautiful figure Goel, who embodies the person who takes on the great debt of a family member who has incurred a huge debt. Not only has the figure of Jesus, who gave himself for us to be saved, come to mind, but also the beautiful reality expressed by St. Paul when he says "My life is Christ." The fundamental question is whether I am ready to give myself up, to sacrifice myself for others. I also remember the rise of religious institutes, whose members who took up the place of those who were imprisoned. I believe that each of us who are facing this reality must have commitments. We have the documents which shows this reality, we see the difficult situations of the others; therefore we cannot remain indifferent, as if it were something that does not concern us. I think a passion should be born in us to change the conditions of this reality, to alleviate the suffering of others because this suffering is also ours and also cause us pain [as we are one body in Christ]. So our task is to understand, to realize, to know and to not leave things as they are. We pledge that these dramatic incidents do not occur anymore. And to reach out to these brothers and sisters who have at least enough to live with dignity.