Dinner and a warm place to sleep: How Rome is reaching out to the homeless

Dinner and a warm place to sleep: How Rome is reaching out to the homeless

ROME, Italy– As colder weather settled over Rome last week, two area charities have found ways to reach out to those without food or shelter during the cold winter nights: one by turning a church into a temporary shelter, another by partnering with a newly-opened McDonald’s near the Vatican.

Medicina Solidale has plans to hand out around 50 meals to area homeless on Mondays starting Jan. 13 and continuing through June. The first 1,000 meals were donated by the lately controversial, Vatican-area McDonald’s, which has been the subject of mixed reviews.

An association of doctors who volunteer with homeless throughout Rome, Medicina Solidale said they asked if “beyond the controversy,” McDonald’s would donate “some food to give to the homeless of St. Peter’s.”

“And the McDonald’s told us yes immediately,” Gianluca Scarnicci, a press officer of the organization, told CNA.

Since Jan. 7, when temperatures dropped drastically in Rome, the Community of Sant’Egidio has opened up San Callisto Church, in the Trastevere neighborhood, as an overnight shelter for those who would otherwise be on the streets, also offering a hot meal at a nearby cafeteria.

Dinner is available to guests from 7pm onwards, and from 8pm to 10pm they can enter the church, staying until around 8am the next morning. The church and adjoining rooms, equipped with heat, toilets, pillows, blankets, and beds, currently house around 30 people each night.

The church is located in an area of Trastevere belonging to the Vatican. Volunteers welcome guests during opening hours and are also available throughout the night. They also try to help find solutions to the material needs and health of guests and to locate for them, if possible, another, longer-term solution for shelter.

These initiatives reflect the request Pope Francis made Jan. 8 when he announced that his urgent prayer intention for January is for all those who live on the streets with no shelter.

The Pope asked for an increase in aid to the homeless, especially during the cold winter weather, saying that “unfortunately some didn’t make it. Let us pray for them, and let us ask the Lord to warm our hearts so as to be able to help them.”

“During these very cold days, I think of and I invite you to think of all the people who live on the streets, affected by the cold and many times by indifference,” he said.

The Pope made his appeal looking out over a frozen St. Peter’s Square and the thousands of pilgrims bundled up below the window to the Apostolic Palace, though as of Friday, the cold has lessened slightly, bringing rainy weather with it.

His attention to the homeless isn’t surprising, as it has been a consistent concern for Francis since the beginning of his pontificate.

Not only did he have showers and a barber service installed in the bathrooms in St. Peter’s Square to help the homeless stay clean and tidy, he has invited them to several events in the Vatican, including concerts and tours of the museums, and they have consistently been his special guests for breakfast on his birthday.