Father Aldo, can we take stock of the situation after the significant attention received from the media because of Pope Francis’ surprise visit to the 20 women freed from the slavery of prostitution racket, who are hosted in a structure located in Rome and managed by the Pope John XXIII Community, founded by Father Oreste Benzi?
The biggest consequence is the grace and great gift these young women have received after meeting Pope Francis. This is the greatest gift they have received, transmitting the joy of being there to all the other women, because the Pope’s presence made them feel important. We saw their radiant and bright faces, and this is the most important achievement.
The Holy Father’s words were very touching and, once again, unequivocal…
Yes, exactly. The Pope’s gesture aimed to ask forgiveness on behalf of all Christians for the evil caused to these daughters. In the Holy Year of Mercy, Pope Francis drew close to innocent people who have lost everything, and he asked forgiveness for that. A great lesson and an important testimony.
Who do you think should be the first ones to grasp his example?
Certainly all those people who saw him and who are willing to accept the challenge of his extremely concrete gestures. Yet, admiration alone is not enough; we must learn to get involved and guarantee our own active participation, leaving our balconies and starting to walk alongside the poor and the last. The Holy Father gives us this example every day and it is more eloquent and incisive than many sermons and speeches.
What happened during the hour you spent together?
Our meeting was really informal and full of authentic familiarity. Francis immediately put us at ease and everything felt very natural. We greeted and introduced each other, then, after the introduction of Giovanni Ramonda General Manager of the Community of John XXIII, the Pope began to listen with great attention to the stories of these women. We cried together but then we also received his consolation and encouragement. There have been also joyful moments… We sang together, then he served drinks to the girls, dedicating touching words to each one of them.
What struck you the most about this meeting?
The simplicity of the Holy Father, full of depth and spiritual passion. I have truly breathed the presence of Jesus through His Vicar. It is a feeling I cannot describe; one can only understand it through direct experience. Besides, the tangibility of Pope’s actions is really exemplary.
You, the representatives of the Association, what have you told the Pope?
The President of the Community talked about the unceasing work of all the members who, starting with the founder Father Oreste Benzi, have been involved in the reception of the last. Ramonda then explained His Holiness the various missions we are carrying on as a community, and in particular we have described our great commitment to these girls, and the initiative of the campaign “This Is mìMy Body”, to raise awareness among Italians and among the Institutions .
And what are you asking, precisely?
We are asking Italy to adopt the Nordic model, namely the criminal liability of the client in order to discourage the commodification of the person. Prostitution spreads exactly because of the great demand there is out there. Striking the demand, that is, the customer, we can drastically reduce the phenomenon, as it has already happened in Sweden, with excellent results.
Father Aldo, is there anything special you told the Pope and want to share with us?
Among the various reflections, I told him of the extraordinary prayer of the Rosary that we have been faithfully organizing every Saturday at midnight for 13 years now in Perugia, in places of prostitution, with the presence of these enslaved girls, who for an hour challenge even their pimps to join us. Last Saturday there were 12 of them. This prayer also encouraged several victims to escape from this hell. I saw the Pope struck and edified by this story.
Thus, we have taken stock of the situation. What are going to be the fruits of Pope’s visit?
The Pope encouraged us a lot and I am sure that the attention of the media towards his action will give strength and will put a spotlight on those who can do more to free the enslaved women. I also hope that some of the 100 thousand girls who are still on the Italian sidewalks will hear the voice of the Pope, and that it might give them the strength to flee from captivity. I also hope that the customers and the pimps will finally know the desire of repentance, and that they will redeem themselves by helping these girls to break their chains.