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it1Sr. Giuliana and Sr. Barbara with some guestsIn Rome, there are about 7,000 people and less than 1,000 of them find shelter in the homeless shelters managed by the city and various volunteer associations. Besides foreigners, there is an increasing number of Italians who turn to soup kitchens and shelters, and these ‘traditional’ facilities meet their primary needs by offering a hot meal and roof over their heads.Yet, after one night spent in a shelter, a new day begins as being ‘homeless’ on the streets: endless hours to fill, without purpose and a place to stay, therefore adding to material, emotional, and psychological difficulties.

Noticing this social reality, our community has tried to offer a response to how and where to spend the daytime hours by creating a “daytime home” and a welcoming place both from a human and logistical point of view. This is how the Sunrays Center was born in Rome. Opened in September 2009, in the presence of Sisters, Associates and friends, the Center was the outcome of meetings, contacts, and relationships with several volunteer Associations of the city.

Sunrays is a space where the healing Charism of Mother Frances offers an opportunity to rediscover confidence in oneself and one’s ability to relate as a group. The Center is open four days a week – from 10:30am to 4:30pm – and offers various services: socialization, self-managed laundry and ironing service, free Internet access, a hot meal for lunch, movie screenings and library use.
ita2Moments of fraternity at the Sunray CenterSr. Giuliana tells us: “The Center is not organized as a mere place for assistance or, even worse, as a ‘parking’ place, but rather as a space that fosters an atmosphere of respect, trust, and hope with new possibilities for re- integration for those who have experienced anguish, failure, and loneliness. During these years we have seen seeds blossom from barren land. New Life begins.”

“My encounter with the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor and the Center has been very positive” – says Roberto, one of the Sunrays Center’s guests – so much so that from that first day until now I have never missed a day; I got attached to it. During years of back and forth with various volunteer associations and lay and religious communities, I have never found such a serene setting. I feel good here; it is like a big family in solidarity.”
A volunteer remembers his first impressions at the Center: “We meet in the morning, together we get the cafeteria ready, we share food in a familiar and friendly atmosphere, which continues until the afternoon.

The welcoming style of the Center is an expression of the Charism of the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor. We promote the abilities of our guests in a relationship of reciprocity. I met people gifted with authentic culture, artistic talent, sweetness, sympathy, and human depth, people to whom life has and continues to present difficult moments and trials. “Sunrays” cannot resolve the problems of these friends, but it still tries to offer help and a sense of presence. It is at the Center that I understood that awe is the best remedy against prejudice.”

Francesca, an Associate of the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor, has been working for a few years at a Homeless Shelter in Rome and has also collaborated with the Sunrays Center since its beginning: “The people I meet tell us of lives broken by disease, death, poverty and weakness. Yet I try to never forget that they are men and women, souls, living human beings.

it3The tendency of even the most well-intentioned people is to turn the “homeless” into a separate category. I am often told that the life of the homeless is the outcome of a conscious choice. I have met very few who have made this choice!

I perceive that for many the street is a refuge to escape from a life that has become unbearable. For many others the street opens a life of meaninglessness; if they are not helped, it marginalizes them even more.
During these years I learned to welcome and listen to the life stories of many people, with the awareness that, if a person agrees to sit down and ask for help, they have to concretely look their own failure in the face. This is certainly not an easy thing to do!

The belief that is getting increasingly stronger inside me is that welcoming and listening are only some of the instruments that we can make available to those who find themselves in a situation of extreme difficulty. There is more, because being ‘helped’ cannot be ‘only’ a gesture of human solidarity, but rather it has to be a ‘right’!”

As Pope Francis reminds us, in our highly technological world, the attention to the other, the listening, and the search for possible solutions, are not only a Gospel priority but primarily a human one. This is what we commit to live at the Sunrays Center, with the style that belongs to Mother Frances: “I recognized Christ in the poor and suffering as if I had seen Him with my physical eyes!”. From this care, attention, and appreciation for the person a new hope and healing energy can be born for the entire community of life.

 

 

 Sr. Giuliana Vitale, SFP

Published: June 9, 2014