“Encountering people where they live: in their cities and homes, in their workplaces. Wherever there are people, the Church is called to reach out to them and to bring the joy of the Gospel, and the mercy and forgiveness of God.”
Pope Francis, during his opening homily for the Jubilee Year of Mercy
Using Urban Properties to Encounter God's Children
The Community of St. Egidio is a Christian community founded in 1968, after the second Vatican Council. Its mission focuses on the poor, prayer and bringing peace to God’s children. The community’s wide array of initiatives target the marginalized and ostracized in our communities, while working to bring God’s peace to our broken world.
Amongst their many initiatives in Rome we can find their Art Labs (art labs dedicated to meet the educational needs of people with mental disabilities who are prevented access to integrated educational careers, offering them opportunities for growth and career advancement) and a popular restaurant in the trendy quarter of Trastevere, the Trattoria De Gli Amici– a restaurant that employs people with mental disabilities while supporting many of the Community’s other initiatives. For example, the restaurant’s walls are lined with art from the Art Labs that is for sale and can be purchased there by the clients who frequent the restaurant. Wines for Life, a humanitarian project involving Italian wine which funds the DREAM program to help AID victims in Africa (two more initiatives run by the faithful from the Community), fills the wine selection on the menu.
Called to Leave Tangible Signs of Mercy
But amongst these initiatives one stands out for its uniqueness and scope. The Villetta della Misericordia is a homeless shelter that homes 20 people. Its inception is a story of ingenuity, creativity and a response to God’s call to take care of all His children, bringing the Gospel to all.
During the Extraordinary Jubilee for the Year of Mercy in 2016, his Holiness Pope Francis asked Catholics to leave tangible signs of mercy in their cities. This call to show the loving face of God to all people through tangible works of mercy was embraced by the Community di San’Egidio.
The Gemelli hospital, a large Catholic hospital in the heart of Rome, had an empty building on its grounds. Many homeless people, abandoned by family and friends, lived in the vicinity. After Pope Francis asked to leave tangible signs of mercy in the city, the Sant’ Egidio Community approached the hospital and asked them to be allowed to use this empty building to create a shelter for the marginalized.
Thus a collaboration between the Community, the hospital, the foundation that owned the hospital and a nearby university came to be. By reusing an empty space, the Church was able to use her patrimony to offer shelter to the homeless, food to the hungry, care to the sick, and most importantly, treat these ostracized children of God with the dignity they deserve.
As Marco Impagliazzo, the president of the Comunità di Sant’Egidio, explained in an interview to Roma Sette shortly after the opening of the shelter, “these are people who are considered invisible. But in this place, they will be able to encounter the Father’s face. Here they will have a face, a name, a story, and above all, a place that will welcome them.”
Google Maps image of the Villetta della Misericordia.
By reusing an empty space, the Church was able to use her patrimony to offer shelter to the homeless, food to the hungry, care to the sick, and most importantly, treat these ostracized children of God with the dignity they deserve. This beautiful example of innovative usage of urban space showcases, once again, the need for the Church to not only have a space it can use, but the importance of being creative with the properties she owns so as to be able to continue her mission.
Watch Sophie Janssens, a volunteer at the Community di Sant’Egidio, share how their ministry uses urban assets to respond to the needs of the marginalized in Rome.
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