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Cardinal says Italy is seeing a surge of ‘new poor’ amid the pandemic

Homeless man. Credit: Vlad Zymovin / Shutterstock.

An Italian cardinal said Tuesday the country is seeing a surge of “new poor” due to the coronavirus pandemic, and warned that the situation is putting many at risk of becoming victims of usury.

“The fracture of the new forms of poverty is becoming more and more pressing,” Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti said in a video press conference Jan. 26.

The president of the Italian bishops’ conference said “the socio-economic situation in which our country finds itself is a source of growing concern: it is clear that a series of problems of a structural nature that have been known for a long time, and have been underestimated for a long time, must be addressed in an indelible way.”

Speaking at the start of the winter working session of the conference, the cardinal highlighted the “fractures” in society, which the coronavirus pandemic has transformed from “isolated to associated.”

The gift of reconciliation, he said, commits us “as Christians and citizens, to a response of communion and co-responsibility.”

Bassetti noted that the John Paul II National Anti-Usury Council has identified that in Italy, 3 million households, including families and family businesses -- about 7.5 million individuals -- are insolvent, and that 350,000 families are at risk of usury.

Bassetti also said that the Catholic charity Caritas has seen an increase in the number of people who turn to them for material assistance, and that it found the number of “new poor” to have increased from 31% to 45% in the summer of 2020 compared with 2019.

Experts have warned that criminal organizations are taking advantage of the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.

One way these groups are benefiting is by taking over bankrupted businesses. Mafia organizations offer usurious loans to desperate owners, who, when they cannot repay, get forced into being front men for a Mafia-controlled business laundering dirty money.

In his speech, the cardinal called for action at the governmental level to quickly address the country’s financial situation, before the problems get worse.

“It is clear that the generous solidarity of many must be accompanied by the political will to go beyond the logic of emergency measures and temporary relief to develop a strategy that is truly systematic, also in order to make the best use of the incoming resources,” he stated.

“It is necessary to design new sustainable and innovative tools and solutions from a social point of view and to implement actions that are close to situations of economic and financial fragility,” he said, “through which to intercept those in difficulty, listen to them and help them make the right choices at the first signs of alarm without waiting inert for the worsening of the situation.”

Bassetti also encouraged action through local institutions, including parishes and anti-usury foundations, “so that no one is left alone in the face of the psychological, economic and spiritual upheaval that all this causes and to prevent criminal organizations from getting close.”

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