By editor - 03 May, 2016
Pope Francis is to receive 6,000 homeless people from all over Europe, who will be making a pilgrimage to Rome from 11 to 13 November, at the close of the Year of Mercy.
Organised by the FRATELLO Association – an initiative born in the wake of the 2014 pilgrimage of 150 people then living on the streets in France – the 2016 pilgrimage is one in which organizations throughout Europe aiding the poorest and most vulnerable brothers and sisters in society are invited to participate.
The programme for the 2016 European Festival of Joy and Mercy, includes catechetical sessions – including several occasions to pray with and hear from Pope Francis – group activities organised by language, and breakout sessions with team leaders.
One of the statements of Francis’ pontificate so far 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?”
He emphasised that just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit regarding the value of human life, we must also say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality because this kind of economy also kills.
This pilgrimage is just one of a number of gestures of solidarity Pope Francis has undertaken towards the homeless.
He used the occasion of his 78th birthday in December 2014 to give out 400 sleeping bags to street sleepers.
His chief alms-giver, Mgr Konrad Krajewski redistributed hundreds of umbrellas left behind by visitors to the Vatican museums to the homeless to keep them dry.
The renovation in 2015 of public toilets in the shadow of Bernini’s late 17th century colonnade around St Peter’s Square 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 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.
In his native Buenos Aires, Archbishop Bergoglio was known as the “slum bishop” because of his care for the poor.
As a Jesuit, vowed to poverty, who has taken to heart the gospel teachings on the poor, he knows that the Vatican is all too often seen as the epicentre of privilege.
He told a large group of homeless people, “This is a house for everyone” as they were given a private viewing of the Sistine Chapel, a striking statement of his priorities.
In Evangelii Gaudium , Pope Francis writes, “This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelised by them….”