A dream of Pope Francis’ has come true with the inauguration of a church open 24/7 for the poor in the centre of Rome.
Driving the news
The church of the Santissime Stimmate di San Francesco, or Holy Stigmata of St. Francis, is the site of a new initiative by Spanish Catholic NGO Mensajeros de la Paz (“Messengers of Peace”).
From Monday, in that church, the Eternal City’s most vulnerable and marginalised are now able to relax, shower, receive clothes and blankets or wash their own, get food and medical/psychological/spiritual attention and even connect to the internet 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The remodelled church, in Rome’s historic central Pigna district, was opened December 9 with a Eucharist presided over by Rome auxiliary bishop Gianpiero Palmieri and Mensajeros founder ‘Padre’ Ángel García, among other prelates and priests.
For the ceremony, Pope Francis himself sent a letter in which he praised the “precious” project of the 24/7 church “as a common home to build together”, and as “a haven in which to find a welcome and from which to return to face the wonderful adventure of [the] Christian vocation”.
“I wish that the doors to the House of God are always open because it walks among the peoples, in the history of men and women”, Francis wrote in his letter to Padre Ángel.
“Otherwise, churches with closed doors should be called museums”, the Pope observed.
The pontiff also prayed that Mensajeros’ new Church for the poor in Rome may be “an oasis of peace of the love of God, a place of welcome, reconciliation and forgiveness”.
Why it matters
From Rome, Padre Ángel told El País that “in this city there are more people sleeping on the street than anywhere else in the world”.
The goal with the new church “is to create a home for those who are cold both outside and inside”, the priest said.
“Pope Francis always says that he would like to have a poor Church for the poor. This project is just that. We count on his blessing”, the founder of Mensajeros celebrated.
Padre Ángel added that he hopes the pontiff comes one day to visit his ‘dream’ church.
For the record
Mensajeros’ 24/7 church for the poor in Rome is hardly a first for the Spanish NGO.
Since opening its first ‘franchise’ in Madrid in 2015, the initiative has spread to other places around the world, with poor-friendly churches also being opened in Barcelona, Mexico City and Amman, Jordan.
Neither is it out of character Pope Francis’ stated desire to Padre Ángel that churches should be refuges for the weakest and not “museums”
One of the pontiff’s favourite metaphors for the Church is that of the “field hospital” called “to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful” with “nearness” and “proximity”, “from the ground up”.
The Pope has put that nearness and proximity to the poorest in action in countless occasions.
Most notably through the papal charities’ office and his almoner, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, who just in the last few months has won permission papers for ‘irregular’ migrants in Italy or brought refugees to Rome.
Krajewski has also personally handed out blankets to those sleeping rough on Rome’s streets, funded soup kitchens, showers and medical clinics for the homeless, and personally restored power to a building occupied by squatters, among other many initiatives.