Assisi's Franciscan friars have engaged a security firm for the first time to protect visitors to the Portiuncula church of St Francis from "importuning beggars".
Armed security guards have been brought in to protect visitors to the Franciscan church of Santa Maria degli Angeli at Assisi from "beggars, tramps and gypsies" who "disturb the peace of a place of prayer", the Times Online reports.
The church houses the Porziuncola, the hut in which St Francis patron saint of the poor, began his mission in the thirteenth century.
Luigi Frollini, head of a firm which supplies security guards in the Perugia area, confirmed that it had put guards on duty at Assisi at the request of the Franciscan friars.
"So far they have only had to deal with a few gypsies importuning pilgrims" he said.
Claudio Ricci, mayor of Assisi and a member of Forza Italia, the party led by Silvio Berlusconi, said the friars' decision to employ guards was in line with a new local ordinance cracking down on illegal immigrants, many of them gypsies.
Mr Berlusconi's Centre Right alliance, which won a sweeping victory in elections last month and is due to take office shortly, has promised to close down Roma shantytowns, expel illegal immigrants and recruit more police to tackle street crime.
Mr Ricci told reporters that Assisi had a long tradition of welcoming visitors and pilgrims in the name of peace. There had however been thefts from offertory boxes as well as harrassment of visitors by beggars and pickpockets.
Armed guards brought in to protect Assisi church from beggars (TimesOnline, 1/5/08)
St Francis of Assisi (Wikipedia)
Porziuncola official website
Libby Purves on what St Francis would do about Assisi's begging ba