On Saturday, March 21, Pope Francis is set to spend a day visiting Pompeii and Naples. Though short, this trip is yet another reminder of the pontiff’s preferential option for the poor and marginalized.
Aside from a visit to a sanctuary in Pompeii and a meeting with the sick at Basilica of Gesu Nuovo, the pope is visiting Scampia, a bedroom suburb best known as the setting of the film Gomorrah; Poggioreale, an overcrowded prison; and meeting with youth at an iconic seaside promenade.
The suburb of Scampia is best known today as the setting of the film “Gomorrah” and home to what is considered an example of failed civic architecture. The “Vele di Scampia” or the “Sails of Scampia” is concrete house complex designed and built from 1962 to 1975. The sail shaped concrete buildings with outdoor staircases were part of a larger complex of buildings. The project incorporated large outdoor spaces between buildings that were meant to serve as piazzas and soccer fields.
The reaction to the completed complex was less than enthusiastic. Maintenance was not a priority and living conditions soon deteriorated. Instead of becoming a mini-city bursting with life, Scampia became the only place that disadvantaged families could afford to live. The mafia also moved in.
While not all residents are involved with organized crime, Scampia is not an easy place to live and residents don’t have many opportunities available to improve their situation. Given his past declaration about Mafia members being “excommunicated” or removed from God’s love, expect strong words from Pope Francis during his meeting with residents in St. John Paul II Square.
The next stop on his itinerary is scheduled to be Poggioreale Prison, home to 1900 inmates. Pope Francis will greet inmates, many of whom probably lived in Scampia at some point in their lives. The pope is scheduled to have lunch with a group of inmates at Poggioreale and give a speech.
Following his visit to the prison, Pope Francis will stop at the cathedral where he will venerate the relic of St. Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples. That relic is a vial of the saint’s coagulated blood. Three times a year the dark grains of dried blood become liquid once again and take on bright red colour. The miracle usually occurs on the first Saturday of May, the 19 of September, and the 16 of December. Studies conducted in 1988 determined that the substance contained in the two vials housed in the reliquary is indeed blood. The miracle doesn’t work like clockwork. There have been times when the blood did not liquify on those dates, or liquified just before or just after the usual days.
In a recently published book the Archbishop of Naples, Cardinal Crecenzio Seppe, recounted the story of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Naples and the St. Gennaro’s relics. Cardinal Seppe recounts that although it seemed as though the pontiff could not pull himself away from the reliquary, the saint’s blood did not liquify. Even though there is no reason to expect the saint’s blood to become liquid before the pope, this will be a point of interest for some Neapolitans now that their expectations have been raised.
The Scottish cardinal who resigned in 2013 after allegations of sexual misconduct were brought against him, has now given up the “rights and privilleges” of being a Cardinal. Pope Francis has accepted Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s resignation. Cardinal O’Brien will no longer serve on any pontifical councils or committees, nor will take part in consistory or an eventual conclave to elect a new pope. In a statement, the Catholic Church in Scotland said Cardinal O’Brien will be reduced to a strictly private life.