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Pope Francis: parish visit to "existential periphery"

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis made a pastoral visit to Rome’s Sacro Cuore Basilica on Sunday afternoon, in the context of the Church’s 100th annual World Day for Migrants and Refugees. The parish of the Basilica dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is run by the Salesians of Don Bosco, and operates an outreach to the city’s homeless and itinerant populations, as well as a centre of welcome and hospitality for more than 400 young refugees and asylum seekers from Somalia, Eritrea, Gambia, Cameroon, Ghana, Congo, Ivory Coast, Afganistan, Iraq, Iran, Kurdistan, Egypt, Syria, Sudan, Pakistan and Turkey. Listen: RealAudioMP3

Located in the heart of the city, in the vicinity of Rome’s central Termini railway station, the Basilica parish serves one of those “existential outskirts” that Pope Francis has called on Christians in every state of life – and especially those in religious life – to place at the centre of their work and witness in behalf of the Gospel. Sacro Cuore offers a range of services to the people it assists, from Italian language courses to driving lessons, remedial education for middle school equivalency, computer literacy, job training and placement.

The schedule of the Pope’s projected four-hour-plus visit included encounters with children and the faithful of the parish in the courtyard of the basilica, a meeting with refugees, another with homeless persons, an exchange of greetings with families that have had children baptised over the course of the past year, Mass in the Basilica, a visit with the Basilica’s Salesian community, and a moment with young people.

The Holy Father’s focus on migrants and refugees began earlier in the day, however, with an appeal after the Angelus prayer.

Speaking to faithful gathered in St Peter’s Square beneath the window of the Papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace on Sunday for the traditional noontime prayer of Marian devotion, the Holy Father said, “I extend a special greeting to the representatives of various ethnic communities gathered here, in particular the Catholic communities in Rome.” Pope Francis went on to say, “Dear friends, you are close to the heart of the Church, because the Church is a people on a journey toward the Kingdom of God, that Jesus Christ brought into our midst.”

“Do not lose hope for a better future!” said Pope Francis, who added expressions of his heartfelt desire that migrants and refugees be able to live in peace in the countries that welcome them, and that they might be able to maintain the values of their culture of origin. The theme of the Holy Father’s Message to mark the recurrence in 2014 is Migrants and Refugees: toward a better world. In the Message, published in August of 2013, the Holy Father writes, “A change of attitude towards migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone, moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization – all typical of a throwaway culture – towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world.”