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August 24, 2017
In surprise 'mercy Friday' visit, Pope Francis blesses homes of Rome's poor
Pope Francis blesses a home in Ostia, Italy, May 19, 2017. Credit: L'Osservatore Romano.
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.- On Friday Pope Francis made a Year-of-Mercy style visit to a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Rome, blessing the houses of a dozen people, as parish priests do every year during the Easter season.

According to a May 19 Vatican communique, the Pope wanted to continue the “Mercy Friday” visits he made during the Jubilee of Mercy, which are signs “inspired by the corporal and spiritual works of mercy” he performed during the Holy Year.

“As a sign of closeness to the families living on the peripheries of Rome, he decided to bless their houses one-by-one, as the pastor does every year during the Easter season,” the communique read.

Two days ago Fr. Plinio Poncina, pastor of Stella Maris, one of the six parishes in Ostia, posted signs on the outside of the condo building notifying families that he would be stopping by to give the annual Easter blessing.

Only lasting a few minutes, the blessing usually consists of the priest walking through the house and sprinkling holy water in each room, leading the family in a prayer and then handing them a prayer card before moving on to the next apartment.

So it was “a great surprise today when, as the bell rang, instead of the pastor the inhabitants saw Pope Francis.”

According to the communique, the Pope “with great simplicity” met with the families and blessed around a dozen apartments inside the Piazza Francesco Conteduca complex, leaving each of them with a rosary as a gift.

Francis jested at one point, apologizing to families for the disturbance, but reassured them that he had respected the time of silence during which they rest after lunch, which was posted on the sign at the entrance of the condominium.  

Located roughly 20 miles southwest of central Rome, Ostia has a population of around 100,000, among whom is “a lively community of faithful” who live and share the difficulties of a life lived on the peripheries.

The area parish and its adjunct soccer field have often become a reference point for the community and those “social and existential realities which often, suffering forms of exclusion, remain on the margins,” the communique said.

Francis’ visit to Ostia marks the second “Mercy Friday” visit he has made since the close of the Jubilee of Mercy in November 2016.

In March he visited the St. Alessio-Margherita di Savoia Regional Center for the blind in Rome, showing he doesn't think works of mercy are just for special occasions – or years.

Pope Francis kicked off his monthly works of mercy in January 2016 by visiting a retirement home for the elderly, sick, and those in a vegetative state, and a month later traveled to a center for those recovering from drug addiction in Castel Gandolfo.

Other visits throughout the year included refugees, children, formerly sex-trafficked women, former priests, infants, and the terminally ill.