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Vatican camper van brings medical care to Rome’s shanty towns

A mobile medical unit donated by the Vatican tours Rome’s peripheries, offering free health care to those in need.

A local volunteer association of doctors, health care professionals and medical students use the white and blue-striped RV-style vehicle, which carries Vatican City licence plates and the Holy See’s coat of arms – two keys topped by a papal crown.

Dr Lucia Ercoli, director of the Istituto di Medicina Solidale, told the Vatican newspaper that using a medical unit with Vatican licence plates lets the migrants, “who live in truly inhumane conditions” in the forgotten corners of Rome, see and experience “the closeness of the Pope and the Church.”

Of the people they serve many are women, including expectant mothers, as well as children, people who have been tortured in their home country and parents whose children drowned in the sea during their dangerous journey to Italy, she said in an interview published this week.

The association of medical volunteers has been active since 2004, she said. They work together with other nonprofit groups and the Church to staff makeshift clinics and offer services in places of great need.

As of last summer, they started providing services once a week to a Church-run centre for immigrants near a city train station.

“Hundreds of people,” she said, would show up Saturday mornings to get a check-up “and we could do so thanks entirely to the almoner’s office that supplied us with the medicines.”

African refugees relax on mattresses in Rome (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

African refugees relax on mattresses in Rome (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Vatican almoner’s office also offered the camper-like medical unit, and now there is a more private setting for patients that better respects their dignity, and the unit is outfitted with needed equipment, she said.

“Thanks to the Vatican camper, so far we have seen more than 2,000 people” by heading to shanty towns and abandoned buildings where the poor and homeless seek shelter, rather than wait for them at a volunteer centre.

The Istituto di Medicina Solidale has also been providing medical care for those in need every Monday at a first aid station near the colonnade at St Peter’s Square, again with support from the papal almoner’s office, which is funded by charitable contributions from Pope Francis and private donors.

The first aid station for the poor was opened in February, joining the other services – showers, bathrooms and a unisex salon – which opened under the colonnade in early 2015.


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