Combating usury and debt – an original initiative

Did you know that many families are so deeply in debt that they have been caught in the net of loan sharks who take advantage of their situation? Fr. Massimo Rastrelli, a Jesuit from the Gesù Nuovo community in the centre of Naples, Italy, became aware of this social plague through his pastoral work. He decided to tackle it. He set up the San Giuseppe Moscati Foundation in 1991. It was his way of bringing to life the liberation that the Gospel brings to the poor. Father Rastrelli died in 2018, but his work continues and grows.

The foundation bears the name of Giuseppe Moscati, known in Naples as “the doctor of bodies and souls”. This layman, a physician by profession, was canonized by John Paul II in 1987. Since his death in 1927, he has been publically venerated in the Jesuit church, the Gesù Nuovo.

The foundation has a revolving fund, the “anti-usury solidarity fund” of 12,000,000 euros, which it lends to families in difficulty at an annual rate of about 2%. For these families, it is a door towards freedom, the liberation from debts that suffocate them, debts contracted with usurers. A loan shark is often first perceived by a family man as a “friend” or a “friend of a friend” who offers a sum of money that the family urgently needs. The terms of the loan are usually unclear, but a closer look reveals that the interest rates - which are illegal - are, for example, 10% per week or 20% per month.

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San Giuseppe Moscati

 

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To get out of this situation, a family can ask the Moscati Foundation for help. They request an appointment - there is an approximate wait of two months to get it, which shows the extent of the phenomenon. Every Tuesday, volunteers receive the applicants, open a file and make discreet checks. The next day, a committee reviews the case and makes a recommendation to the Board of Directors. The Board meets on Thursday and decides whether it will support the loan application and the amount of the loan.

This work that started in Naples, the only one of its kind that is officially Catholic in inspiration, has spread throughout Italy. There are now 28 “centres” or “foundations” since each unit has its own legal status. This was possible because Father Rastrelli was able to convince the civil authorities and even the banks to participate actively in this project. Since its beginnings, more than a quarter of a century ago, the Naples office has assisted more than 4,000 families. While the main activity, the one that helps families in difficulty most directly, is the loan from the revolving fund, the Foundation is also more widely involved in educational and prevention activities. It fights against over-indebtedness and irresponsibility with regard to debts. Incidentally, it also combats gambling addiction, which is frequently the cause of over-indebtedness.

The work of the San Giuseppe Moscati Foundation is another example of the creativity of the pastoral and social work of the Society of Jesus, which seeks to respond to situations of distress in today’s world.

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Posted by Communications Office - Editor in Curia Generalizia
Communications Office
The Communications Office of the General Curia publishes news of international scope on the central government of the Society of Jesus and on the commitments of the Jesuits and their partners. It also handles public relations.

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