“Moving”, this is how Virginia Raggi, the new mayor of Rome, describes her meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican. A possibility to exchange thoughts with the man who puts a spotlight on the suburbs, giving new life to the public debate on this topic. In a city such as the capital, where there is no shortage of shameful social exclusion, the Holy Father is a model to look at. Because a wounded city can only change if its citizens begin to consider it a “common house.”
Mayor, how was the meeting with the Pope?
“Very good, it was very moving. Obviously, it was the first time I met the Holy Father. I found him very humane. I was deeply impressed.”
For her, as a policy, it is important to improve the moral and spiritual Rome?
“It is even more important now, after all the tragic and despicable events that go under the name of Mafia Capital, but which actually concern many years of bad administration. Roman citizens, people, need to understand that there is something that goes beyond themselves: the common good and public interest; It is something that goes beyond particularism and selfishness. I think we have the duty to report these community values inside the administration and all the institutions”.
How do you see the role of the Church in the society of the city of Rome?
“The Church certainly has a very important role in all of Italy, especially in Rome, because it is ‘at home’ here; we are close, we look at each other from the two sides of the Tiber! I must say that I really appreciated the words of the Encyclical Praised Be, which seem very topical and modern; talking about climate change, urban planning as an insult to the landscape, when it is done without respecting the rules and the spirit of community, the most fragile part of the population. I must say that the Encyclical grasped many of the nuances of today’s Roman society”.
This Encyclical pays a lot of attention to the environment, and with this, we get immediately to the practical life of a big city such as Rome. There is for example the big question of waste disposal…
“Yes, it is a topic we are paying much attention to these days. I have been in direct connection with President Fortini in the last few days, because I think that coming out of this crucial pre-emergency or emergency situation is a priority. I believe it was created as a result of bad politics and bad planning. We need to begin planning again, considering waste recycling as a part of the circular economy design. The Pope talks about it in his Encyclical. A model no longer based on consumption and disposal, but on the possibility to reabsorb goods, objects, and things in a production cycle and get back into circulation, perhaps with a different form.”
Do you see a Rome as forgotten today? I am talking about fight against poverty, the reception of immigrants…
“Unfortunately yes, because the most fragile people need more attention from the institutions, a great effort, also from an economic point of view. When immigrants are exploited, as it happened in the case of ‘Mafia Capital’ scandal, and there is a problem when this becomes business. We must use the money to do things, not use people to make money. We need to change the paradigm.”
The topic of the family. In the past, there has been much debate about childcare. Will there be a family factor in your management of the city of Rome?
“There will be a focus on the services that have always, unfortunately, suffered cuts, because instead of cutting wastes, services have been reduced so far. We know that the wastes are used to maintain privileges, right? So we must try to divert all the money, which have been destined to waste so far, to services and their growth.”
The handicapped often lack access to municipal services…
“I have created a Department for the ‘Quality of Life, Sport, and Accessibility’ which will take into account all the aspects of accessibility. I discovered that the problem does not concern only the disabled, but also parents on wheelchairs and tourists with their suitcases. It does no longer concern only the disabled, but all the citizens. Rome is not accessible. Transport, buildings, roads”.
Transport does not work properly in Rome. Why?
“Rome is lagging behind, but there are good news: like many other cities around the world, we will succeed too. I am not pessimistic. Local transport services (Atac) must be improved and it is a great challenge for us from now till 2019, when the contract between Rome and Atac will come to an end there will be a new competition for the management of this service. We will do our best to mend the company in 2019 so that it can participate in this competition, compete with the others and win. This is our goal. We need special lanes for buses and intelligent traffic lights. Besides, we must extend transports so as to embrace the suburbs, where they have been cut.”
Legality. More and more arches travel without tickets in Rome or place tables on the sidewalks without permission… Do Roman citizens love their capital, in your opinion?
“Roman citizens love Rome. Certainly, we have to take cultural action to restore a climate of trust between the administration and the citizens. The administration must be the first subjects to restore rules. Mafia Capital scandal has made us realize that the violations of these principles has led to and determined the progressive decline of the offered services. We must re-establish a relationship of trust and restore the certainty of the punishment. Citizens need to know that if they violate rules, there will be a sanction. But nobody wants to do it for the sake of it, simply because we cannot tolerate that some citizens pay the ticket on the bus – with sacrifice -, whereas others use the same service for free, without being exempted. We need to restore fairness and the sense of justice. This is what Roman citizens are asking from us and this is what we are going to do.”
The holes on the streets of Rome harm pedestrians, cyclists, and scooter drivers. Are you planning any urgent operations?
“It is a major issue. I asked offices to prepare timetables for all the contracts to reschedule races with particular attention to the question of road maintenance. In the last months of 2015, an investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office revealed a bribes cycle in that sector. These money were destined to bribe officials of the engineering departments who were paid not to control the execution of the work in accordance with the rules. This is the result.”
One final thought about the Olympics. Is the junta going to make a further assessment concerning Rome in 2024?
“Roman citizens did not mention the Olympics during the election campaign. If citizens ask for a referendum, we will take it into consideration, obviously exposing all the pros and cons, costs and recall that last year we finished paying the annual installment of 92 million euros for the World Cup in Italy of ’90. Do the Math and understand the weight such events represent on people’s shoulders. It is very important. No one wants to bring Roma to a non-competitive level compared with other European cities, God forbid, but at this moment, in which we have a debt of 13 billion Euros only for extraordinary management, I think that asking the citizens to take on a debt for the next 20, 30, 40 years is not ethical nor fair.”
Interview by Luca Collodi – Chief Editor and responsible for the Italian channel of Radio Vaticana