Teens in Naples collaborate on the restoration of early Christian catacombs in their city.
When Don Antonio Loffredo arrived here about a decade ago, he found three levels of frescoes, chapels and cubicles beneath the neighborhood’s trash-strewn streets. It’s a burial ground that dates to the 2nd century, the largest of its kind in southern Italy. But back then, tourists only wound up in this part of town by mistake.
Loffredo saw an opportunity. “We took kids with one foot in the streets and one foot in the church, so to speak,” he says. Some of them even came from mafia families. “I can say this because your audience is far away,” he adds. “It could easily be the case that the sons of a boss are here, and one of them has nothing to do with the mafia”.
Loffredo says crime families often feel trapped by a life they were born into, and are eager to find alternatives for their kids. So he put them to work fixing up the seriously neglected catacombs. Mud and dirt covered much of the floor; an old lighting system left much of the artwork in shadows; and a store room had been stuffed with waste and old equipment from a nearby hospital. All of it had to go.
"When we started they were 16-year-olds. Now they’re in their 20s, and they’re paid because they are entrepreneurs. It’s not hard to offer alternatives to crime if you’re creative and available," he says. And after fixing up the Catacombs, they went to work in management, the ticket office, and as guides.