If you’ve been to Rome, you have probably tossed a coin into the Trevi Fountain like thousands of other visitors do every single day. The tradition gained popularity after it was the theme of the 1954 romantic comedy “Three Coins in the Fountain,” but it started long before the movie. Originally, it was said that a thirst quenching glass of water from the Trevi Fountain would ensure good fortune and a fast return to the Eternal City. Over time the legend of the Trevi Fountain evolved to tossing a coin in to ensure a return to Rome.
Although it is an essential tradition for millions of tourists, few would have imagined that their loose change would also spark a bitter battle between Rome’s secular authorities and the Catholic Church!
Over 1.5 million euros in coins are scooped out of the stunning Baroque fountain each year. The recipient of the money has been the Catholic charity, Caritas, which uses the funds to help the city’s poor and homeless. Now Rome’s Mayor, Virginia Raggi, says the €4,000 worth of coins tossed into the fountain every day belong to her administration.
Beginning April 1st, the donations will no longer be paid to Caritas, but will be used by the Rome City Council for the maintenance of cultural sites and social welfare projects. The proposed changes, reportedly approved by the council at the end of December, have provoked a backlash from the Catholic Church.
Avvenire, the daily paper produced by the Italian Bishops Conference, launched a scathing attack on the council in its Saturday edition, describing the city’s bureaucracy as “the enemy of the poor” in a front-page article headlined “money taken from the poorest.” Caritas confirmed that the changes would take effect from April even though it was still hoping the council would back down. “We did not foresee this outcome. I still hope it is not final,” said Father Benoni Ambarus, director of Caritas Rome.
Caritas said it had received an outpouring of support from politicians, clerics and journalists who supported its work and opposed to the move. It is not the first time the council has sought to get its hands on the coins donated to Caritas. The plan was first suggested in late 2017 by the cash-strapped city council, led by Mayor Raggi, from the populist Five Star Movement, but the proposal was delayed for a year following widespread criticism. Caritas, which was founded in Rome in 1971, relies on the donations from the fountain to provide help to the city’s homeless and families in financial difficulty. Apart from the furor over the fountain, the council is under growing pressure to provide improved services in the Eternal City and to fix thousands of potholes in the roads and pavements of the city.
According to the latest statistics, the city has received 4,500 requests for compensation from drivers who claim to have suffered injuries on the streets of Rome. The council set aside €13 million for disputes in 2018, nearly double the €7 million allocated the previous year. So unless the administration changes its position, beginning in April, the (pot) hole in the budget will be filled by stealing from the poor.
With the amount of backlash that this story has created, the battle does not appear to be over. Given the importance of the Catholic Church and its charities, especially in Rome, it would not come as surprise if the plan to grab the coins falls apart before the April 1st date. Stay tuned for further updates.