What do poor people need? According to Pope Francis, it’s a trip to the circus

Animal rights activists say Pope Francis’ way of giving to the poor, by taking them to a day at the circus, is the wrong approach.

Last week, the Vatican announced that the office of the pope which is in charge of helping locals in Rome had made arrangements to take 2,100 people to the Metrano Circus just outside of the city.

Activists, including the Italian animal protection group LAV, say the Vatican shouldn’t be doing anything that will exploit the weak and downtrodden animals who are forced to perform in circuses.

Those who attended the circus after tickets were arranged by the Vatican office included the poor, homeless, a group of prisoners, children of families who can’t afford circus tickets and volunteers and caregivers.

We are surprised to see the Vatican doing this,” said Gaia Angelini, who heads the exotic animals division of the Italian animal protection group LAV.

Many countries, including Italy and Canada, have begun to phase out circuses. Many are no longer allowed to operate within city limits. Keeping animals for entertainment and in cages have become over the last 30 years less common.

Angelini called the gesture from the Pope surprising as it shows exploitation of the weakest members in society, which in this case, are animals, she told Reuters.

Reuters reported that in 2016, a court in the northern city of Padua handed down an eight-month suspended sentence to an administrator of the circus following accusations by animal rights advocates that its animals were mistreated.

Salvatore Mendola, a manager and spokesman for the circus, said the charges were denied and the case was still in the appeals process.

He told Reuters on Wednesday that the circus was now under a different administrator.

“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,” he said.

“Our animals are super-controlled.”

The Vatican said a mobile medical clinic would be on hand outside the circus tent on Thursday to treat visitors’ routine health problems.

In recent years, the pope has set up places for the poor to get showers, haircuts and shaves near the Vatican. He has also offered them a private tour of the Sistine Chapel and last November hosted about 7,000 for a gourmet meal at the Vatican.

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