Pope Francis paid a surprise visit to 20 former prostitutes by knocking on the door of their safe house in Rome and coming in to have a chat with them for more than an hour.
The Pontif sat down with the women who had been rescued from their pimps and are being given shelter and protection at an apartment run by a Catholic charity in Italy’s capital.
The 79-year-old Argentine cleric has on several occasions described human trafficking as a “crime against humanity”, listened as the women made up of seven Nigerians, six Romanians and four Albanians, told their stories of forced prostitution. The other three in the group came from Italy, Tunisia and the Ukraine.
Speaking to the former prostitutes, all aged about 30 and had “suffered serious physical abuse”, the Pope encouraged them “to be strong” as they started their new lives with the help of the Pope John XXIII Community.
Many women have fallen victim of human trafficking and eventual forced prostitution following promises of jobs in Italy and other western European countries.
The unannounced visit to the ex-sex workers fell under what the Vatican termed Francis’s “Fridays of Mercy”, whereby he carries out one unscheduled act of mercy a month on a Friday — mainly in or near Rome — throughout the pope’s Jubilee year, which started in December and runs to November.
In January, he visited a care home for the elderly and people in a vegetative state, while in February he went to a community for drug addicts. In March he toured a refugee centre before visiting asylum seekers on the Greek island of Lesbos in April.
The pontiff then spent time with the seriously mentally ill in May before visiting old and ill priests in June and dedicating his July “Friday of Mercy” to sick children in Krakow after praying for the victims of the Holocaust at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp.