(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis is set to visit a Rome parish which aims to encourage young thespians and is committed to serving the poor.
The Holy Father will celebrate Mass on Sunday at the parish of Santa Maria Josefa del Cuore di Gesù at Ponte di Nona, a district in the east of Rome.
Before Mass, the pope will speak to young people in a newly-launched parish theatre and will also meet Caritas volunteers who distribute food parcels to more than 200 families in the area.
The parish, which suffers from high unemployment, consists mainly of young couples with small children and numbers about 20,000 people.
Describing the moment he announced the visit to parishioners, pastor Fr Francesco Rondinelli said: “For a few seconds they looked at me dumbfounded - then there was an explosion of joy.
“The aspect that most moved me is that everyone, even those who have a small physical ailment, have offered their help to prepare the perfect welcome.
“Every parish priest dreams that his community receives a visit from the Holy Father, but I would never have hoped for one. It seemed to me an impossible desire to achieve, let alone a few months since my appointment.”
He said that when Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the Cardinal Vicar of Rome, called him about the visit, “my legs started to shake and I felt the joy difficult to put into words.”
Santa Maria Josefa del Cuore di Gesù is a newly built church dedicated to Saint Maria Josefa Sancho de Guerra, the Spanish foundress of the Congregation of the Servants of Jesus of Charity. She was canonised by Pope Saint John Paul II on October 1, 2000.
The first Mass in the Church was celebrated by the then Cardinal Vicar Camillo Ruini on January 27, 2001. In December of that year, Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass there and gave the community a precious crucifix, which is today placed on the altar, as well as a statue of the pietà.
The parish has a Catechesis programme attended by more than 200 children who also have the use of football and basketball courts.
Fr Rondinelli, aged 39, who took up the parish appointment only five months ago, grew up with drama and thinks it is an important part of a teenager’s formation.
“I would like, then, to organise courses in theatre for young people and adults to bring in more participants and protagonists.
“We have a beautiful theatre, fully equipped, which can accommodate 200 people, but remains unused up until now. "
As well as meeting the youth and Caritas volunteers, Pope Francis will also speak to families and the sick of the parish. He will hear four confessions of parishioners.
The visit, beginning at about 4pm, will be the 13th of his pontificate to a parish in the Diocese of Rome.