I DON’T know how things are in your respective countries, but here in Italy phone fraud is unfortunately on the rise. Our smartphones and landlines are being assailed by fraudsters of all stripes, some of whom are operating at the international level. It all most often begins with a phone call from an unknown number and ends up with someone defrauded of their savings.

Fraud is a terrible sin: it is stealing, lying and breaking the law all in one. But it is even more odious when perpetrated against the weakest sectors of society, like the elderly.

This is what happened to Carla, an 80-year-old widow who lives in Padua and who often comes to the Basilica to visit her dear friend Saint Anthony.

Last week, around midday, Carla, who lives alone, was preparing her meal when her landline phone suddenly rang. This was rather unusual because no one ever calls her at that time. She only speaks on the phone with her daughter when she’s back from work in the evenings, and at 3:00pm, after her midday nap, with her friend Loretta. Carla also has two grandsons, but they never call her.

A gentle voice asked her, “Am I speaking to Mrs Carla?” “Speaking. Who’s calling please?” “This is Traffic Police Officer Rossi, and I am calling you about your grandson.” “My grandson?” Carla replied alarmingly. “Are you talking about Paolo or Mirko?” “I’m taking about Paolo. He has just given me your phone number, madam.” “Goodness gracious, what happened to him? Is he okay?”

“He’s fine, madam. He’s just a bit shocked because about half an hour ago he ran over a cyclist with his car.”

Carla was left speechless, and her pulse was racing like it was going to break out of her chest. “Are you there, madam?” asked the person at the other end. “Yes, I’m fine. How is the cyclist?” “He was taken to hospital. But I’m worried about your grandson Paolo. We’re about to take him to Police Headquarters. His breath alcohol test was positive and he will now be charged with driving under the influence. This means he’s in big trouble. He needs money immediately. If he has this money he can pay the fine and he won’t need to go to jail. It was Paolo himself who told us that you can help him, and I am only doing him a favor by calling you...”

At this point Carla started to cry. His beloved grandson Paolo was about to go to jail. What a shock for his poor parents. It was absolutely necessary to prevent this from happening.

“How much is the fine? I’m an elderly woman, surviving on a miserly pension. I don’t have much in the bank and only a hundred Euros at home.” “Go immediately to your bank and withdraw all the money you have. We’ll meet you halfway in this. One of our agents will call by your place at 3:00pm. You must give him whatever sums you manage to scrape up from you savings and we’ll release your grandson immediately. But hurry, don’t waste any time!”

“Thank you, thanks a million, Officer. I’m going to the bank straightaway!” and thus the conversation ended.

Carla ran immediately to the bank, but on her way back she stopped by the Basilica to ask for the Saint’s intercession for her grandson. While in the Basilica Carla was crying so visibly that one of the pontifical guards approached her to see what was wrong, and Carla, sobbing, told the guard everything that had happened. A phone call to the police, the real one, on the part of the pontifical guard and a few hours later the fraudsters had all been arrested.

The number of elderly people has multiplied in recent decades, but our societies are not so well equipped to take care of them in a way that respects their dignity and fragility. Instead, they are often left to fend for themselves, and are increasingly targeted by unscrupulous individuals who have no qualms in using spin and even violence to extort money from them.

Let’s help our elderly brothers and sisters, and let’s recall what Pope Francis has often stressed, “A society that does not take care of its grandparents has no future… The elderly give us history, they give us doctrine, they give us faith and they give us experience. They are the ones that, like a good wine, have the strength within themselves to give us a noble inheritance.”

Updated on July 01 2018