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Here's how the Vatican's mobile medical unit is helping the poor in Rome

Posted July 25

The Vatican continues its efforts to help the poor and downtrodden through the donation of a mobile medical unit that is now traveling around Rome to offer free health care to people in need.

It's a development that should come as no surprise, considering the fact that Pope Francis has been a prominent voice for those in need, regularly speaking out about the impact that both poverty — and wealth — can have in society.

Staff with the Istituto di Medicina Solidale — a group of doctors and health care providers who volunteer their time to help the poor — drive the RV-styled vehicle around to find and help people in need.

The organization, which has been working since 2004, partners with the Catholic Church and other organizations to set up clinics and to offer services to those with few — or no — options for help.

Dr. Lucia Ercoli, director of the Istituto di Medicina Solidale, has said that the vehicle, which is adorned with the Holy See's coat of arms and has Vatican license plates, helps those on the margins feel connected to the pontiff as well as the church more broadly, Catholic News Service reported.

Ercoli also said that the Vatican vehicle serves a diverse group of people, including pregnant mothers and refugee children whose parents died while trying to flee to Italy, the outlet reported.

In an interview with EWTN earlier this year that focused specifically on the opening of a local clinic in St. Peter's Square, Ercoli thanked Pope Francis for his role in helping to empower the organization, though she said that there is still much work to be done to help those in need.

"We are grateful to Pope Francis for having wanted, once again, to give a concrete sign of mercy in St. Peter's Square for persons without a fixed residence or who are in difficulty," she said. "Our doctors … have accepted with great passion this new challenge that ideally combines the work done in recent years in the suburbs with the heart of Christianity."

Helping the poor has been a consistent theme for the Vatican, with EWTN also noting that the Catholic Church has housed, provided showers for and even offered barber services to the poor and homeless in recent months.

Also, since last summer, the Istituto di Medicina Solidale has offered services once a week in a church-run clinic for immigrants, with Ercoli saying that hundreds of people showed up for check-ups. The Vatican's charity office offered medicine to help support the effort, according to the Catholic Herald.

In a similar vein, Pope Francis surprised a disabled, elderly couple with an electric scooter last month — an act of compassion to help them live more independently, according to Vatican Radio.

It was also a gift that left Ercoli feeling immeasurably grateful.

"We feel less alone in our daily work, less abandoned by institutions, but with the pope we feel close and always present," she said.

Pope Francis has made some strong statements in the past about the need for Catholics to help the poor and those in need, with the pontiff recently calling on the faithful to help families in "crisis."

It was in January, though, that the Catholic leader made some of his strongest comments yet about poverty and wealth, that those with a great deal of money can become "slaves to sin" who "will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is hell" if they ignore the poor.

"The greater their power and wealth, the more this blindness and deception can grow," he said in a written message that was released before Lent began earlier this year.

Email: bhallowell@deseretnews.com Twitter: billyhallowell Facebook: facebook.com/billyhallowell

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