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Pope Francis has refused to meet with immigrants who have taken shelter in a landmark Roman church in case it is seen as a political gesture.
Around 120 people, mostly migrants from North Africa and Eastern Europe, took refuge in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore two weeks ago.
Having been evicted by Italian authorities from a squat outside Rome the fifty families asked Francis to grant them asylum in the Vatican.
In a letter to the Pope they said: “We ask that you make yours the wounds that we carry, that you grant us as human beings who have been persecuted, harassed and humiliated by the Italian state, political asylum.”
But Francis, who went to pray at the Marian Basilica on his very first day in office as well has before his recent trip to the Holy Land, had the church cleared yesterday before his visit.
As he arrived in a procession to celebrate the Corpus Christi the migrants were relocated to the car park by Vatican Gendarmerie.
Rashid Belbiar, from Morocco, told The Tablet: “We couldn’t even see the Pope. We were moved to the car park and he came in the back entrance.”
Vatican spokesman Father Thomas Rosica said beforehand that the Holy See feared such a meeting might be “manipulated to put pressure on the Rome authorities”.
One woman identified only as ‘Magdalina’, said the migrants were “shocked” at their treatment.
She said: “We were counting on being able to meet Pope Francis.”
“We asked him to hear us out, even just for a few minutes. But they told us that we could not meet him and must go away from the church. They told us that if he met us it would be a political gesture."
Francis was their “last chance of salvation”, she said.
The group have now left the Basilica. Some have accepted temporary accommodation offered by the Italian authorities in a former exhibition hall but others say they will not live there because there is no light or water and other inhabitants have been diagnosed with tuberculosis.
Above: Pope Francis elevates the Eucharist as he celebrates Mass on the feast of Corpus Christi outside the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. Photo: CNS photo/Paul Haring