The nearly $1.7 million in coins tossed in annually by tourists and then fished out of Rome’s iconic Trevi fountain ignited a brief battle between the city and the Catholic Church.
Last month, the city council decided the coins collected from the famous landmark would be used to help the city’s crumbling infrastructure – controversially ending an 18-year practice to donate the money to a local Catholic charity.
“The gift that comes from the Trevi Fountain in Rome is a rain of coins that creates a sea of good,” the Rev. Benoni Ambarus, the director of the charity, called Caritas, told Italian newspaper Avvenire on Saturday. “I refused to think about closing services for the poor. I still hope that the trust in Caritas will be reconfirmed, that we will be able to find a way that intertwines reasonableness, solidarity and the joy of coin tossing, to keep this network of help alive.”
The decision, which would have gone into effect on April 1 and was touted by Rome’s Mayor Virginia Raggi, slashed about 15 percent of the charity’s yearly expenses that are used to fund soup kitchens, social assistance programs and a homeless shelter, among other activities, he said.
However, on Monday, after several days of backlash from the church, the charity and its supporters, Raggi reversed course.
She told the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, that it was all a misunderstanding and Caritas would continue to receive the money fished out of the Trevi fountain, and would also receive the coins tossed into any of the city’s historic water features.
“No one ever thought about depriving Caritas of these funds,” she told the newspaper on Monday. “The diocesan agency plays an important role for many needy and for the city of Rome, which wants to continue to be the capital of welcome for the weakest.”
Instead, she said, the city needs to ensure an accurate count of the money and instead of having Caritas volunteers sort and count the coins, the city will entrust the city’s department responsible for cleaning and maintaining the famous fountain.
She said this would bring “order and transparency” to the process.
“Now, however, tourists and citizens will finally know how much is collected and who is destined. And Caritas will also be able to plan its charitable activities more easily,” Raggi said.
This is not the first time Raggi has tried to use the funds from the fountain for the city. In 2017 she touted a similar plan to the cash-strapped city, but it was suspended following widespread criticism.
The idea of fishing out the coins from the iconic fountain and giving them to Caritas dates back to 2001.
The Trevi fountain, commissioned by Pope Clement X11 in 1732, is visited by millions of tourists every year. The tradition of tossing the coins in was popularized with Frank Sinatra’s 1954 romantic comedy “Three Coins in the Fountain.”