• October 30, 2014

Friars turn to online ‘begging’ to restore sanctuary

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Posted: Saturday, March 22, 2014 4:30 am

ROME — Franciscan friars in Rome need $125,000 to restore the cell where their namesake saint once slept when visiting medieval popes and have turned to online crowdfunding to raise the sum.

“For us, crowdfunding is a form of modern begging,” Friar Stefano Tamburo, head of the Franciscan monastery of St. Francis at Ripa in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood, said Friday.

Begging is a core Franciscan tradition.

With that in mind, Tamburo said he made a conscious decision not to seek any financial support from the Vatican or from the Italian state, which owns the St. Francis at Ripa church and is formally responsible for its upkeep.

“We believe that public money should be spent on social programs,” he said.

St. Francis of Assisi was a 13th-century monk who lived in poverty and sought to clean up the Catholic Church from corruption. Pope Francis found him such an inspirational figure that he adopted his name when appointed to the papacy last year.

St. Francis’ cell — a small, windowless room with an imposing altar that was added in the 17th century — has walls blackened by smoke from candles and oil lamps, falling plaster and a ceiling damaged by woodworms. It also needs new electrical and ventilation systems.

The aim is to complete the work by the end of September so the restored cell could be inaugurated Oct. 4, St. Francis’ feast day, at a ceremony to which the pope has been invited.

So far, the online appeal on Kickstarter has raised just more than $17,500. Friars need to hit $125,000 by April 10 or their online endeavor will fail, forcing them to seek alternative sources of funding.

The St. Francis at Ripa complex holds not only St. Francis’ cell but also works by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Giorgio de Chirico and it gives shelter to 18 young people, most of them migrants from Africa or Asia, whom friars help find jobs or complete their educations.

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