First course, second course, fruit or dessert. At the Italian food bank of Saint Peter’s church in Clerkenwell, in the City of London, the meals for the homeless are warm as in the best Italian tradition. No canned food and cold pasta, as is customary in the rest of the United Kingdom.
A long story. It’s the Italian parish in London, founded on the initiative of Saint Vincent Pallotti in 1845 to care for the souls of approximately two-thousand Italian immigrants who arrived in the Country to work as itinerant musicians, accordion-players and artisans. Although today our fellow nationals live in other areas of the city, having become successful artists, this basilica remains an important point of reference. A port of call for the many homeless and the poor that are welcomed by the parish priest, Father Andrea Fulco, in the belief – following the spirit of Pope Francis’ Pontificate – “that the poor are our evangelizers.”
The volunteer workers. “Our door is always open”, said Fr Fulco. “Although the charter of the ‘Saint Peter project’ charity, conceived for the poor, states that we ought to give priority to Italian-speaking people.”
Indeed, the two volunteer workers, Elena Plenzich, 73, who arrived in London from Benevento in 1972, and her friend Rosa De Sio, one year younger, the cook of the soup-kitchen who has been living in the British capital since 1964, are both Italian.
For years, together with Paola, Lucia, Annamaria and Gabriella, they have been cooking lasagne and cannelloni served twice a week, ensuring a veritable dinner every Thursday evening at 6:00 p.m. Here too there is occasional talk of Brexit and its possible consequences on Italian immigrants, but in the meantime life goes on.
Material help and counselling. Also Sister Giuliana, from the Order of the Marcelline, and Francesco Fiorini, 26, doctor at the “Chelsea and Westminster Hospital”, give a helping hand. The initiative is coordinated by Alessandra Pischi, in her forties, with a long experience as social worker at San Vincenzo de’ Paoli, offering free counsel on State subsidies to indigent people. “More than twenty people arrive every Thursday for a warm meal, but those without a home knock on our doors every week”, said Alessandra. “I indicate them the offices to which they must file their requests. If they are homeless I give them the address of hostels where they can spend the night. We also help pay household bills to those with a home. Sometimes we give the possibility of taking a shower, along with clothing and blankets.”
Prayers, sacraments. “In addition to isolation and loneliness, which affects the poor, there is also a moral, social, spiritual form of poverty”, added the parish priest, don Andrea. “We try to counter this situation by offering prayer meetings and opportunities to draw near the sacraments. For example, the four Eucharistic celebrations held on Sundays are attended by approximately one thousand people.
The youth group meets every fortnight on Wednesday evenings. This theme of this year’s reflections is a phrase from the Creed: “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church.”
Some fifteen families meet once a month, on Saturdays, they come in with their children who are entrusted to the care of baby-sitters while they meditate on the document “Amoris laetitia”.
The Brixton district. The point of reference of Italian youths arriving from London in search of a job are also the Salabrinian fathers, in the difficult district of Brixton. They run a youth hostel, a kindergarten, an old-age home, and an “Italian women’s club.” Today, the parish of the Redeemer, at 20, Brixton road, which, as the Saint Peter’s parish, was established to help Italian immigrants, is rejuvenated by the songs of the Philippine and Portuguese communities who brought here their traditions. Two sprouts that germinated on Italian roots and kept them thriving. In the simple rooms with old, fitted-carpeting and draughts gushing through the cracks in the windows, live Father Francesco Buttazzo, who speaks Italian, Portuguese, English, and French, together with Ronan Ayag from the Philippines, Jean Philippe Alexis from Haiti, and Luc Nguyen from Vietnam.
The “new Londoners.” “We offer our halls to local Portuguese and Philippine faithful to celebrate their festivities” said Father Francesco Buttazzo. “It’s extremely important in London, where exhausting working hours cause widespread isolation. The church is filled with hundreds of Portuguese faithful, while there are less Philippines and Italians, for they prefer to leave London as soon as their family living conditions improve.”
“Italian migration has changed”, the priest added.
“Today our fellow-nationals are less patriotic and less inclined to gather together in associations compared to the post-war years. Club of Italian regions, and organizations of Italians abroad are dying out: Italian migrants speak good English and they use social networks to meet. We are seeking new ways to reach out to them, but it’s not easy. This year I started holding catechesis meetings on the ten commandments. I draw them near the Word of God with an existential and psychological approach, making young people understand that it speaks about them.”