ROME: Needy Muslims in Rome will be included in a €1 million ($1.13 million) “Work Dignity” fund set up by Pope Francis to help people in the Italian capital who lost their jobs because of the coronavirus lockdown.
Under the initiative, the Caritas charity — the Roman Catholic Church’s relief agency — will receive initial funding to support those struggling amid the economic crisis who fail to qualify for Italian government help.
“Of course, part of this fund will go to needy Muslims living in Rome,” the Rev. Pasquale Marano, a priest who runs a soup kitchen in the capital’s San Giovanni area, told Arab News.
In a letter to Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, vicar general of the Rome diocese, Pope Francis said the fund aims to support those who have lost their livelihoods because of the pandemic, no matter what their religion.
Marano said: “So many Muslims in Rome have lost their jobs and most of their income during this difficult period. We are talking about people who need to support their families and who would not qualify for state aid because they do not have a permanent job.
“Charity has no religion. It is just charity. With the pope’s fund we will try to help them, too. Muslims have been helping needy Christians all over Italy during Ramadan without asking about their religion.”
Marano said he had seen an increase in the number of homeless visiting the soup kitchen in recent weeks.
Almost all the newcomers had jobs before the lockdown — mainly as waiters or kitchen staff — and most came from Morocco, Tunisia, Bangladesh and Pakistan, he said.
Monsignor Claudio Celli, former head of the Vatican Council for Communication, told Arab News: “Restaurants have been closed during the lockdown, and when they finally reopened they were not hiring because business has been poor. We know many Muslims who have been asking for help from Caritas and the parish churches in Rome. Caritas will be happy to keep helping them all.”
He said that the pontiff had highlighted that the fund is for “those who risk being excluded from institutional protection and who need support until they can walk again unaccompanied.”
Daily and part-time workers, interns, small business owners and the self-employed made up the bulk of those seeking help, Celli said.
“Many are fathers and mothers who struggle to provide food for their children and make sure they receive the bare minimum,” he added. “The pontiff does not mention Muslims, in particular, for the simple reason that religion is not a requisite,” Celli said.
“The only requisite is being poor and in hardship because of the pandemic.”
Announcing the €1 million initiative, Pope Francis asked all “the good hearts among all Romans” to contribute to the fund, which he described as “a concrete gesture of inclusion, especially toward those who seek comfort, hope and recognition of their rights.”
He called on all citizens to share generously, and urged priests “to be the first to contribute” and to become “enthusiastic supporters of sharing” in their communities.