We’ve previously posted about how Coronavirus Italy consecrates many of its cities to the Virgin Mary.
And now, if Italians in Coronavirus times are not allowed to go to church to attend religious services because of the self-isolation lockdown imposed on them, the church is going to them.
This is what the Parish of Santa Giulia Billiart in Rome does.
In Tor Pignattara, a historic working-class – now rediscovered by the middle class – district (“borgata”) of South-East Rome whose origins started in the Early Middle Ages, every day at noon, bells ring and a Marian song rises from the Parish of Santa Giulia Billiart.
It is the signal, the “voice of Mary” calling the aerial congregation across the roofs to prayer. The windows open, small balconies fill up to join the Supplication to Our Lady of Pompeii from people’s own homes.
On the rooftop terrace of the parish church complex, surrounded by the apartment blocks above it, the three priests who guide the community in the Tor Pignattara area, don Manrico, don Eugenio and don Luca, appear.
Wearing the purple stole, they recite the prayer in front of a microphone that through speakers sends the invocation to the inside of apartments. Then a brief reflection. Follows the leave-taking, accompanied by greetings bouncing from one window to another, until someone asks his neighbour: “What have you cooked for lunch?”
Tor Pignattara is home to six thousand people, of whom one third are – you might have guessed it – Muslim. In recent years, like so many other European cities’ suburban areas, it has undergone a population replacement.
Since the mid-90s, Tor Pignattara has received many migrants, especially from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, China and Africa. But the most numerous are the Bangladeshis, hence its nickname “Banglatown”.
This Christian service initiative in Tor Pignattara was born as a spiritual response to the “flash mobs” which in these lockdown times animate Italian balconies around 6pm, when Italians normally go out for a “passeggiata” in the main street, and which have been seen in the media around the world.
“In times of difficulty Rome has always turned to Our Lady and invoked her protection” says the parish priest, Don Manrico. Interviewed by Avvenire, the Italian Bishops’ Conference newspaper, he explains that the three priests asked themselves: “Why, alongside moments of relaxation to share together, not propose a collective religious rendezvous?” Hence the Marian noon prayer, the special hour of devotion to the Virgin, the 10-15-minute-long bridge between homes.
The parish priest says that they want to stay close to the community and not let people feel alone but allow them to express their faith in a simple but intense way.
The parish remains a point of reference for the neighbourhood: “We are almost a village within the metropolis. When the rumour circulated that Rome churches were closing, many told us that they felt lost. Our church is always open. And we priests are inside or in the churchyard. Even if few are those who enter, the community perceives it as a beacon in the midst of darkness.”