Pope Francis’ plans to treat some of Italy’s most disadvantaged people with a trip to the circus has been met with condemnation from animal rights groups.
The Vatican announced on Wednesday that the pope’s office for dealing with charity activities had made arrangements for 2,100 people, including the poor, homeless and displaced, to attend a performance at the Medrano Circus outside Rome.
The papal almoner said the gesture offered the gift of beauty to those who have suffered hardship.
“This gift given by the Circus – who with constancy, effort, and many sacrifices seek to create and offer beauty for themselves and others – will hopefully become for our poorest brothers and sisters an encouragement to overcome the bitterness and difficulties of life, which often seem insurmountable,” the pope’s office said in a statement.
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At the end of the show, which is due to take place on Thursday evening, attendees will receive a box meal while a mobile medical clinic will be set up for those who need help with routine health problems.
However, the move has been criticised by Italy’s Animal Protection League, which said keeping animals in circus captivity was “unnatural”.
“The vast majority of people and of the faithful believe that love for animals should not be sacrificed to love for the others,” Carla Rocchi, the League’s chairwoman, said in a statement.
Francis has previously written a papal encyclical in which he condemned the mistreatment of animals.
“We have only one heart, and the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat an animal will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people,” the document from 2015 states. “Every act of cruelty towards any creature is contrary to human dignity.”
However, in 2016 Francis told his followers that “people in need deserve more love from us than the animals do”.
The Medrano Circus defended its record on animal treatment following the furore from the papal announcement.
“We treat our animals very well. We have to get permission to hold shows in each city and are inspected by veterinarians before permission is given,” said Salvatore Mendola, a manager of the circus. “Our animals are super-controlled.”
Mr Mendola said that the circus was now under a different administrator after a 2016 court case handed down an eight-month suspended prison sentence to an administrator accused of animal mistreatment.
He added that the charges had been denied and the case was still in the appeals process.