Vatican Corner 02-09-2020

As part of his Friday of Mercy initiative, and just before the World Day of the Poor, Pope Francis on January 31, 2020 blessed the Vatican’s new Night and Day Center for homeless people .The Center is in a four-story palace that was constructed in the 1800s, and located in the prestigious area of Rome, just yards away from St. Peter’s Square. The palace is called the Palazzo Migliori (Palace of the Best) and was named by the Roman family who built it and who sold it to the Church in the 1930s. For 70 years, the palace had been used as the headquarters of the Calasanziane order of religious women. They used it to care for young single mothers, but the order relocated to a new location last year. To put the palace to use again, one idea the Vatican considered was converting it into a luxury hotel. The thought was that being so close to St. Peter’s Square, tourist would pay top rates to stay there, and that money could go to helping the poor. However, Pope Francis had a different idea, and ordered his Almoner, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, to turn the palace into a place where the poor and homeless of Rome can sleep, eat, and learn. It has now been dubbed ‘A Palace for the Poor’. Renovation of the interior was performed. The upper two floors were made into 16 dormitories where 50 men and women guests can sleep, but more people could be managed when the weather gets bitter cold and the need is greater. The second floor was made into a breakfast and dinner area. The kitchen staffed by volunteers will not only prepare hot meals for the homeless in the palace, but for those at other places in the City like the train stations where the homeless gather. During the day the bottom two floor of the palace have space for volunteers to teach literacy and computer classes, and has spaces for reading, recreation and counseling. There is also a large chapel for personal and community prayer for the volunteers and guests. The company doing the construction of the palace was asked to let the homeless do work on the renovation. The company was hesitant but agreed. The company was so impressed by their work ethic that they hired the homes workers. An elevator was donated to the project and installed in the palace to allow access to the elderly and disabled. Private donors were very generous. The Holiday Inn chain provided the beds. If you have paid for an official papal blessing, there is a good chance your money went to this project. The charitable operation of the palace is staffed and run by the Sant’Egidio Community, a lay catholic association in charge of many charitable projects linked to the Vatican. The building does not look like a homeless shelter with its historic wooden ceilings and pieces of art on the walls. Mario Brezza, 53, one of the guest put it this way: “This place feels more like home. I have my own bed, room and bathroom, it’s so different from the dormitories I have tried until now, where sometimes you feel like an animal in a crowded stable.” Carlos Santoro, a member of the Sant’Egidio Community said “It’s home to those who until recently did not have a house to go to.”