Protesters Celebrate Open-Air Mass at Dump Site as Trash Piles Up in Naples

Protesters opposing the reopening of a garbage dump in Naples celebrated Mass in the street on Sunday as the city's trash, uncollected for more than two weeks, piled ever higher.

"You can't solve the problem by reopening another dump," the Rev. Giuseppe Cipolletta told reporters after holding the open-air Mass in the Pianura neighborhood. "It will just fill up, so where is the solution to the problem?"

Using a plastic table as an improvised altar, the Catholic priest celebrated Mass at a gas station near the long-closed dump that is to be reopened, leading about 100 protesters who sang prayers and Christmas hymns in the rain.

Garbage pileups have sporadically plagued the southern port city and much of the surrounding Campania region for several years. Although citizens are angered by the uncollected trash, they have also blocked plans to create new dumps or reopen old sites like the one in Pianura.

Youths have clashed with police near the Pianura dump where work to reopen it has begun.

Collectors in Naples stopped picking up trash Dec. 21 because there is no more room for it at dumps. With garbage accumulating across the city, residents have taken to burning the stinking mounds, raising alarm over toxic fumes.

Premier Romano Prodi said he had ordered all schools in the area to be opened Monday after some local officials said students would be kept home beyond the usual end of the Christmas break because of health risks posed by the burning piles of trash.

The crisis has prompted calls for the resignation of officials in Campania and Naples who had promised to solve the decade-old problem. Officials have blamed organized crime infiltration of garbage collection services and disorganized bureaucracy.

On Saturday, Prodi said that Naples' garbage problems had to be solved "once and for all," and that government ministers would meet Monday to come up with a strategy.

"Everybody's watching us, and I don't want Italy to give off this negative image," he said. "It's an emergency we must tackle rapidly."