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St. Andrew, the church of the elderly
23/04/2012 Italy

The real soul of the neighborhood that surrounds the parish of St. Andrew is the community of fishermen with their little houses. The changes of recent years which have impacted the seacoast of Pescara and the slow transformation of small family businesses in a modern society, grappling with the crisis of the market economy and with the erosion of the city’s port, have led to a reversal of the age pyramid. The extremely low birth rate in fact stands in contrast with the high rate of mortality.

The pastor of the church of St. Andrew the Apostle, Fr. Costante BARON tells of a community of about five thousand inhabitants, composed mostly of elderly who need constant care and assistance. The neighborhood north of the marina has, in recent years, undergone profound changes which have had a decisive effect on the way of life of the old families of fishermen. “Every year we note 70-80 deaths in the parish register,” says the priest of the church built by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. “That’s an impressive number when compared to 3-4 weddings and 20-25 baptisms in the last twelve months.”

Over the past two years in particular, the whole economy linked to the sea has undergone a radical collapse: the failure to dredge the port has short-circuited the sailors, the owners, the contractors, the ship operators, and the restaurateurs. Last month, this slow decline induced the priest to take paper and pen to write to the mayor, Luigi Albore Mascia, and the prefect, Vincenzo D’Antuono, asking them to cancel the traditional night of fireworks on Monday evening and the civic celebrations in honor of St. Andrew, patron of fishermen, as a sign of solidarity with the problems along the coast. “This raised a fuss,” stated Fr. Baron, smiling and shrugging his shoulders. “The mayor was shocked; he contacted the newspapers and there was also a committee formed. In the end, we decided to have the feast as usual, but it will be different from previous years: more restrained. And fireworks? Of course there will be some, but briefer: a half-hour compared to the one hour of the summer of 2011.”

Directly interested in the issue of the port and the difficulties of the fishermen is one of the pillars of the St. Andrew community, Fr. Aldo D’OTTAVIO, 68 years of age in December, a native of a northern seaside neighborhood of Pescara and the son of fishermen. After an experience as a worker-priest and union member at the Fiat plant in Turin, he returned to his own city to deal with problems that are closest to his heart: the lack of jobs, the environmental risks in an area around the sea and the river and the transformation of the seacoast of the past. “The soul of the marina has changed in recent years and it has lost its identity somewhat.,” states Fr. Aldo. “The fishermen are fewer and fewer; for the most part, those who go out on the boats are foreigners. In conjunction with the socio-economic transformation of Pescara, fishing too has changed. The small family-run operations of the past have now become modern businesses, dealing with the concrete problems of the marketplace, from the price of fuel to the introduction of more advanced machinery.”

Also, the attachment of families to the parish and the values of the Church has gone missing. There are few young people who flock to the church that rises in the midst of the piazza. Yet the five priests -- besides the pastor and Fr. Aldo, there are also Fathers Fernando GARBANTINI, Fiore PAGLIONE and Domenico VITANTONIO -- they can count on four affiliated groups (catechism, liturgy, missionary and charity) and on Caritas. “Slowly, we are trying to renew the way of understanding Christianity,” says Fr. Baron, “because here there is still a somewhat magical approach to the faith and a still traditional way of understanding religion. But that’s greatly due to the fact that our community is, for the most part, made up of elderly persons.” (Ylenia Gifuni in Il Centro: Pescara, 15 April 2012)