Italy - Rome, History of a district on the outskirts
San Basilio is a working-class district in an outlying area to the extreme north-east of Rome. It was constructed during the 1950s around an old cluster of small thatched mud-brick houses, and consisted almost exclusively of social housing for Italians arriving from particularly poor areas. With time and the post-war economic revival, this area became the industrial zone of Rome; the arrival of a large penicillin Factory brought wellbeing and work. However, the construction of the large Roman prison of Rebibbia on the fringe of the district made its good name rather questionable.
I arrived in this district during the 1970s, a young professed sister, and the first thing that struck me was that huge abandoned building at the entry to San Basilio, on the Vía Tiburtina (one of the great Roman roads): it was the penicillin factory. If you were to go there today, almost fifty years later, you would find it is still there, in the same condition. It is full of asbestos and its demolition would be too costly.
At present, the population of the area, with a majority of aged persons, is increasing (the population is around 35 to 40 thousand), the upkeep of the social housing is practically non-existent, the roads are full of holes, not to mention the pavements, the gardens are neglected. Almost all the small businesses have been obliged to give up because, in addition to having to face the competition of the big, low-cost supermarkets, the body that manages the social housing has increased the rents. Drug trafficking, a real scourge at San Basilio, is spreading among the inhabitants who justify themselves by arguing that it is a means of survival, given the lack of work. Contact with the younger people is very difficult, as they are absorbed in their tablets, smartphones etc., although that situation seems to be generalized.
The attempts to renew the area (which are always undertaken during the pre-election periods), consisted in the opening of a Cultural Centre, which is little used by the greater part of the inhabitants and proposes initiatives that are not very attractive, and the decoration of a few houses with graffiti.
Only the parish thought of dealing with some of the local problems by laying out a park that is supervised during the day and closed at night and where the mothers and the grandparents can let the children play in safety.
Also, the new Oratory (a place for catechism and games for the young people) was freshly decorated to offer more young people a healthy place for personal and Christian growth.
We have to recognise that San Basilio is an impoverished district. Even the sale of our house brought about the disappearance of one of the rare existing services: the Laboratory for Clinical Analyses, which had to be transferred to another area. Many of the factories of the industrial zone have been closed and are now occupied as dwellings by the new immigrants who are arriving from Africa, and from countries where there is war (Syria, Afghanistan etc.)
Our life as Little Sister is interwoven with that of the people; very many bonds have been formed with individuals and families who are affected by chronic basic problems: illness, loneliness, un-employment, a moral poverty that today is increased by the programmed destruction of the family and by de-Christianisation. Nevertheless, the Lord is present and we meet Him, we touch Him, through our humble services. Through them we give and we receive.
We have seen the miracle of the change and conversion of Aldo, a man aged about fifty, a user and seller of drugs, who was under house arrest. Several times Sister Angelina tried to help him to detoxify, without much success. But she is persistent and continued to trust him. She found a community that was able to receive him and today Also is a new man. He has become the right-hand man of the priest who founded that community.
Elena is a woman aged 37, whom we came to know on the occasion of the preparation of her two children for baptism. We began to accompany her after the children’s father had left the home. She had been unemployed since the month of May and, just at the time when the children were starting school, she found work that kept her far from her home every afternoon. The children are very lively and the only person on whom she can count is the grandmother, who is undergoing chemotherapy. We know that we have to collaborate, we will provide part of the baby-sitting service. May God come to our assistance!
Emanuela and Ermanno, a couple from the Fraternity, live in a three-room flat with their two children. Emanuela’s parents, who are now both invalids, live at the other end of the district and need to be helped. Emanuela and Ermanno found themselves obliged to bring them to live with them and gave them their room. For two years they themselves have been sleeping on a bed-settee in the living room. In the meantime, the flat beside theirs became vacant and they asked immediately for the change of accommodation for the parents. The reply they received was: in that social housing one cannot choose one’s flat. The solution would be “to occupy” the flat (as most of the people in San Basilio do) with the possibility of regularising the contract over time. Our friends wished to remain within the law. They will continue to sleep on the bed-settee … And, others will occupy the vacant flat.
We are in contact with many families of the district, whether through the help given in the home or through our role as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. That is how I came to know Filomena and Aurelio, a wonderful couple, very united, with four children who today are grown up and married and who, unfortunately, all live in other towns. Filomena suffers from a form of Parkinson/Alzheimer that is destroying her physically and mentally, but when she receives Jesus she is always perfectly aware. She is alive, thanks to the care and the help that her husband never fails to give her, but sometimes she has crises that are linked to her illness. When the mother is not well, one or other of the children always comes and the first thing they say is: “We’ll have to take mama to the hospital.” Aurelio’s reply is always the same: “As long as I’m alive you will not take your mother to die in hospital. He is right: without Aurelio, Filomena will die quickly. They are united by a deep and tender love. How much we can learn from them!
Romina is a mother aged 36 who is suffering from LAS (lateral amyotrophic sclerosis), an illness that developed after the birth of her son, who is now 12 years old. She has been a widow for some years. Because of the illness she no longer has the use of her upper limbs, she suffers from respiratory crises, and has only limited use of her legs. But she has immense courage, and modern technology is a help to her: with her feet she can use the telephone and the computer, and she keeps up contacts. Her parents help her as much as they can. In the course of this year a hundred home helps succeeded one another, they last a week, a month, sometimes a day. Stability is lacking. But Tuesday is the day for Sister Anna who, for the past eight years, has been going regularly to visit her: she does a little bit of alternative therapy, and mends the linen. There is trust and dialogue, Romina has grown in the faith, she has asked to be confirmed. Now Anna also brings her Jesus.
There, we have recounted something of our life.
Sister Camilla, Community of Rome – San Basilio