The brains behind the Pope’s new 24/7 “field hospital” church in Rome has denounced society’s tendency to criminalise the poor.

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“Those who sleep on our streets or in our churches aren’t delinquents. They are poor, but there are those who want to confuse them with delinquents”, ‘Padre Ángel’ García denounced to Zenit on the occasion of the opening of the ‘new’ church of the Most Holy Stigmata of Saint Francis in Rome.

“More than 90% don’t sleep on the street because they want to… They do so because they have no place to go”, the priest denounced.

Thanks to the generosity of Padre’s Ángel’s Spanish charity Mensajeros de la Paz (“Messengers of Peace”) and the collaboration of the Missionaries of Mary and the Brothers of Saint John of God, Rome’s homeless and vulnerable are now able to sleep, rest, wash, eat and receive free medical care in that central Roman church.

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Padre Ángel told Zenit that he was inspired, with the new ‘church for the poor’ in Rome, by Pope Francis’ insistence, as he put it, to “open the doors of the churches, so that sadness doesn’t take over”.

“Especially… [the Pope] invites us to have churches with open doors [to] be like a field hospital, to cure the wounds that exist”, Padre Ángel explained, pointing to the success of Mensajeros churches for the poor that already exist in Madrid, Barcelona, Mexico and Jordan.

“This Pope is a blessing of God, as are these churches and all the others”, the Spanish priest continued.

“This church isn’t going to compete with any other; it’s one more church, but different”.

Why it matters

The church of the Most Holy Stigmata of Saint Francis certainly is “different” now , and special.

“It’s a church”, said Padre Ángel, adding that “a church always has something special, whatever those might say [those] who believe or don’t believe”.

But the Mensajeros Rome church is also “an open church, with the doors open, so that at 4 o’clock in the afternoon or 3 o’clock in the morning, someone can come to pray, or, if it’s cold, to shelter”, the Spanish priest continued.

And although Padre Ángel said he wouldn’t like to see the Stigmata church turn into a “train station” or an “airport”, he said “we have already invited some of the ‘homeless’ that sleep in the Vatican to sleep in the church where we are”.

“Rome is one of the cities where there are more persons sleeping on the street”, the Spanish cleric deplored.

For the record

The Mensajeros church is filling a need in Roman society, in which “sometimes the hostels or the institutions that are established aren’t the most adequate for immigrants or for a homeless person”, as Padre Ángel explained.

But it’s also fulfilling a special mandate of Pope Francis himself, who ever since he became Pope has worked tirelessly for “a poor Church for the poor”.

“I want God’s House to always have open doors, because it walks among the peoples, in the history of men and women; on the contrary, churches with closed doors should be called museums”, Francis wrote to Padre Ángel in a special letter on the occasion of the inauguration of the stigmata church.

“According to the Gospel, the ecclesial community is a tent able to enlarge its space so that all can enter, an oasis of peace, of the love of God, a place of hospitality, reconciliation, and forgiveness”, the Pope also implored in that letter.

For Padre Ángel, the lesson is simple.

“We must be a Church to cure the cold inside, that many of us have, and the cold outside, that quite a lot also have”.

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