By Sarah Mac Donald - 18 December, 2015
The centre is named after Caritas Rome founder Don Luigi Di Liegro and Pope Saint John Paul II.
One of the statements of Pope Francis’ pontificate has been his visible and practical outreach to the homeless and the poor.
In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, the Pontiff asked, “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”
The Pope used the occasion of his 78th birthday in December 2014 to give out 400 sleeping bags to Rome’s street sleepers.
Speaking at the inauguration of the new homeless centre in Rome, Director of Caritas Rome, Monsignor Enrico Feroci described it as a place of dignity and welcome.
He recalled the words of Don Luigi who said, “a city in which one man suffers less is a better city”.
Those words are inscribed on the walls of the new pristine canteen which caters for up to 600 homeless people every evening and offers a much needed respite from the streets outside where people can come, for warmth, contact with others, and a good meal.
Earlier this year, the Vatican at the behest of Pope Francis, reopened renovated public toilets in the shadow of Bernini’s late 17th century colonnade around St Peter’s Square which incorporated three public showers for the homeless.
These are open six days a week, only closing on Wednesdays when the piazza is thronged with pilgrims attending the Pope’s general audience.
A free toiletry kit including soap, deodorant, toothpaste, razor, shaving cream and even fresh pair of underwear, was distributed also.
A barbershop for the homeless now opens every Monday, the day when Rome’s other barbershops are all closed. Professional hairdressers have joined students from local beauty schools and Sisters from religious orders in volunteering their time to help spruce up the homeless and give them a sense of their own dignity.
Yesterday, Pope Francis received birthday wishes and a celebratory cake to mark his 79th birthday as he greeted young members of the Italian Azione Cattolica movement.
He thanked them for their commitment to welcome migrants and told them that by participating actively in the Mass and in Catechism, they become like missionaries and are able to bring Jesus to others.
The Pope complimented them on the motto of their formative programme for the current year which is ‘Journeying towards You’ and said that to “journey towards the Lord means to take the good road – not the evil one; it means to put oneself on the road of forgiveness, of peace, of solidarity”.
“In this regard your initiative in favour of Migrants in the Agrigento diocese is a very good one.”
And he invoked the Lord’s blessing for the project which, he said, aims to give and exemplary welcome to “so many brothers and sisters or ours who arrive full of hope, but are also wounded and in desperate need of so much, including peace and bread”.