Rome, Italy, Apr 9, 2013 / 12:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A priest in Rome says Pope Francis personally called him to say he will visit the Astalli Center, a local facility run by the Jesuits, that helps thousands of undocumented refugees – many with tragic histories.
“Yesterday I received a call on my cell phone. It was Pope Francis and he told me he would come. This is wonderful,” Father Giovanni La Manna, head of the Jesuit Service for Refugees in Rome, posted on his Twitter account April 7. The Astalli Center offers refugees free medical care, psychological counseling, legal advice, meals, showers, a laundromat and educational assistance. Undocumented refugees can use the services at the Center without fear of being identified and deported, due to an agreement between the Jesuits and the city of Rome. Most the immigrants at the center are Muslims refugees fleeing from the Middle East and Africa, and the lines to use its services are often long. In a previous interview with CNA, Fr. Manna, who has been working at the center since 2003, said the stories behind many of the refugees are tragic. Most of them have fled because their lives were in danger because of political or religious reasons, he said. Others have been forced to flee because “being a Christian in a Muslim country is very difficult.” “There are also many women who have fled because their families force them to marry someone they don’t love,” the priest added. The inspiration to help these refugees “comes from the Gospel. We don’t make anything up, we just keep in mind what the Gospel says and teaches,” Fr. Manna noted. And in welcoming these people we make no distinction for race, language or religion. To us they are people who deserve care and help.” The Jesuit Service to Refugees started in 1980 and has spread throughout the world to help people in need. The Astalli Center in Rome receives nearly 400 people day, and a team of volunteers helps the Jesuits care for them.