Father Kidane, a Catholic priest in Rome, has seen an uptick in the number of Italians turning to his church since the onset of the economic crisis.
He says they come to confess their sins and and then stay on for a chat about their problems.
Some have lost jobs and are struggling to keep a family, but he tells The Local that many simply use the time in the confession booth to vent their frustration.
His comments back up a recent report in the daily newspaper Corriere della Sera, which said that an increasing number of Italians are turning to priests in times of strife.
“A therapist is perhaps too expensive in such difficult times, whereas a confessional is free,” Sebastiano Sali, a research fellow at the Centre for International and European Studies at Kings College in London, tells The Local.
He says the atmosphere in Italy is “definitely tense” and points to the number of stories in the press which reflect that tension: from road-rage incidents and street attacks to passengers fighting over a seat on a bus and neighbours rowing about a garden fence.
“These fights are ending up more and more with someone being hospitalized or worse, dead."
Such a gloomy outlook makes people seek out a “nice word, from a consolatory institution, which can guarantee some security when the traditional social strongholds of family, job and social networks have weakened or disappeared."
The popularity of Pope Francis is also drawing more Catholics back to church. About 80 percent of Italy’s population is Catholic. Shortly after the arrival of Pope Francis, 92 percent said they found him to be “humble, faithful, sincere, appealing to youth, authoritative and determined,” according to a poll by IPR Marketing in April.
Sali says that despite the challenges the Catholic church faces, the institution still provides people with a sense of stability, particularly since public authorities lack sufficient funds to support the thousands in crisis.
“So the local priest or charity intervenes…as a result, the church is taking back a more prominent position, not only in people’s spiritual lives but in their social and material lives.”
In addition, few Italians would seek out a therapist in times of trouble.
“There isn’t much of a culture in Italy for therapists…if you go to the ‘shrink’ you are sick, suspiciously sick.”
Still, while Father Kidane sympathises with those who have serious woes, he is sceptical about others who use the church simply to complain.
“They don’t know what real poverty is,” he says.
“When I came to Italy in 1958 we had nothing, barely enough to even eat. Today, people should count themselves lucky if they have a home and food on the table.”