Pope sends letter of support to squatters of Rome

Tony Gosling tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Sun Feb 7 13:30:57 GMT 2016

Pope sends letter of support to ‘Tarzan’ and squatters of Rome

Pope Francis responded with a pledge of ‘warm 
encouragement’ for occupation of buildings next to papal summer residence

Ferruccio Sansa and 
Vulliamy - Saturday 17 October 2015 19.30 BSTLast 
modified on Thursday 22 October 201514.30 BST

At one end of the correspondence: His Holiness, 
Francis, Vicar of Christ, Pope of Rome. At the 
other: Andrea Alzetta, an insurgent agitator from 
a movement that squats in empty properties – 
known as “Tarzan” in Italian revolutionary circles.

In an exchange of letters that could only belong 
to the transformed papacy of Jorge Mario 
Bergoglio, Alzetta addresses the pontiff as “my 
dearest Pope Francis”. His holiness replies with 
a pledge of “warm encouragement” for the latter’s 
occupation of scenic buildings and grounds right 
next door to his papal summer residence

Their exchange comes as Francis is trying to 
stave off a backlash from the church’s 
conservatives over homosexuality and divorce. 
“Incredible!” Alzetta said. “I’d never in my life 
have thought I’d write to the pope, and that he’d 
reply! However, nowadays who are we supposed to address ourselves to?”

The unexpected correspondence has its origins in 
an occupation in May of two buildings called La 
tenuta Vaselli, set in beautiful gardens with a 
view of the lake and hills of Frascati, a 
kilometre from the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo.

The choice of location was no coincidence: 
Alzetta’s group, Action Diritti in Movimento 
(Action Rights on the Move), chose the site, he 
says, as a statement and contribution before the 
calendar of holy events starting on 8 December, 
called the Jubilee of Mercy and entwining the Vatican with the city of Rome.

Scores of occupiers were spearheaded by Action 
which has for years formed the kernel of Rome’s 
hardline squatting movement: they entered the 
grounds and stucco houses, apparently at the 
invitation of the current owner of the house, a 
descendant of the Vaselli family, to establish 
what Alzetta calls “a multicultural centre for 
welcome reception” of homeless people and 
migrants. “A model for the city”, he said. They 
remain there still – among the cypresses and 
pines in what Tarzan hailed down a loudspeaker, 
as the crowds moved in, as “the most beautiful 
place in the world, surrounded by the rich, noble and powerful”.

Among those noble and powerful neighbours was the 
Pope, and Tarzan – a former autonomist, member of 
the Communist Refoundation party and now city 
councillor with a new movement called Left 
Ecology Liberty – elected to try and get him on 
side. The squatters befriended nuns stationed at 
Castel Gandolfo, one of whom, Sister Damiana 
Esposto, offered to act as courier of a missive. 
The Italian language is famous for its elegant, 
often stilted, formality when addressing people 
in a letter, but Tarzan discards ostentatious 
etiquette, beginning, on letter-headed paper 
featuring a red star and bold black arrow: “Carissimo Papa Francesco ...”

In his letter, Alzetta writes how grateful the 
squatters are “for your dedication of a little 
time to listen to us”, and for the chance to 
“inform you of the conditions of several hundred 
families in emergency accommodation, whom we 
represent”. He refers to the “mafia capital” 
scandal in which crime syndicates exploited 
immigrants and homeless families, and appeals to 
“your sensibility” regarding the struggle of “the 
homeless, migrants and unemployed of the city 
 in hope of your kind reply”.

Somewhat amazingly, Alzetta got a reply – on 
paper headed Segreteria di Stato, Dal Vaticano, 
addressed to Sister Esposto and signed by 
Monsignor Peter B Wells, assessor for general 
affairs, on the pope’s behalf. Acknowledging 
receipt of the letter, Wells says “His holiness 
the pontiff takes to heart that of which he has 
been made aware, and sends word of paternal 
understanding and firm encouragement, and assures 
 in his prayers he imparts from his heart 
an apostolic benediction” for Tarzan’s cause.

The pope will “never cease to promote the values 
of justice and solidarity 
 with organs which 
champion the weakest sectors of society”, 
Francis ends by sending the comrades his “deep 
esteem”. The occupation stands, now blessed; 
homeless Romans and migrants have done up the 
empty rooms and call them home; boys play table 
tennis under the umbrella pines. “This pope,” 
says Alzetta, “is one of the few who stands 
without hesitation on the side of the ‘last’, 
who’s raised the matter of homeless migrants; who 
understands the importance of a welcome reception.

“True, part of the church is still connected to 
power, money and business, and I want nothing to 
do with that. But this pope stands with ‘the 
Last’. And now we ‘communists’ will work with 
priests and parishioners. We’ll be sending the 
children of the homeless to play football with priests!”
    * This article was amended on 22 October 2015 
to clarify the ownership of La tenuta Vaselli.

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