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Christmas with the Community of Sant'Egidio in Italian prisons
January 11, 2011

Christmas lunch in the "rotonda" of Regina Coeli in Rome

"I put my heart next to yours." These beautiful words of Pope John XXIII addressed to prisoners of the Roman prison of Regina Coeli in Christmas of 1958, can be recalled today, to express the sense and feeling of Christmas lunches that the Community of Sant'Egidio organized also this year in many jails and prisons around the world.

In Italy more than 3000 prisoners were able to take part in the 24 Christmas lunches held in prison in Rome, Naples, Genoa, Florence, Livorno, Sulmona, Empoli, Frosinone, Vercelli.

This is the 5% of the national prison population: the poorest among the poor.

Il carcere femminile di Pozzuoli

The Christmas lunches in fact, involved, thanks to the collaboration of the directors and staff of penal institutions, those prisoners who, more than any other, suffer from loneliness, poverty or distance from the families.

A condition that not only has an emotional and serious burden but also a material one: those who have no one to visit them or send them clothes and food supplements, suffer often for the scarcity of food (exacerbated, in part, by the overcrowding condition of Italian prisons), or for the cold.

That's why the visits, the distribution of clothes and additional food, which the Community does during the year, represent a kind of family for those whose family doesn't exist or is too poor and remote. A family that doesn't leave anyone alone on Christmas, a day that, for those who are in prison, could really be the saddest day of the year.

The "Marassi" in Genoa

A proof of this is tragic escalation of suicide attempts in Italian prisons in the days before Christmas, that didn't spare even some of the prisons where the Christmas lunches were held.

This dramatic situation was the background of the great joy of these festive days, which were also attended by special guests: at OPG, the judicial hospital of Naples, came the archbishop, Cardinal Sepe; in Frosinone the Bishop, Msgr. Ambrogio Spreafico, visited all the prisoners, passing in each cell.

In Rome, at Regina Coeli prison, there was great enthusiasm for the presence of the actor Gigi Proietti.

Naples, the judicial psychiatric hospital

Around laid tables, many stories of suffering interwove. Many people are waiting trial, often for many months, some for nearly a year. Being together around the table dryes some tears and returns thoughts of hope for the future.

V., 70 years old, drinking a toast to his friends exclaims: "Today is a historic day."

A man is takes a picture with a sign in his hands: "Daddy loves you" and asks to deliver it to his son.

At the end of the meal Santa has presents for everyone. They are useful things: a sweater, a pair of pyjamas. But what is most pleasing is that sign that the Community of Sant'Egidio holds as a precious gesture that identifies all the Christmas lunches, which takes - here in prison - a very special meaning: each packet has the name of the recipient. The sign of a final output of anonymity. The return of a dignity so often lost.

A gesture understood and returned. In Sulmona, also the prisoners showed up with a gift in their hands: Some objects, handmade a few days earlier: "We would like them to be put up for sale and the proceeds sent to prisoners in Africa, who suffer much more than we do."

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