An unprecedented procession of four homeless people — three men and one woman chosen from the many who live near Termini station — accompanied Pope Francis, on Friday afternoon, 18 December, before he opened the Holy Door of Charity in Rome at the diocesan Caritas Homeless Shelter, where the Pope went to experience one of the most significant moments of the Jubilee of Mercy.
A short walk from the city’s main train station, a place of arrival and welcome, but which is also a magnet for the poor and excluded, is the Don Luigi Di Liegro Homeless Shelter and the adjoining cafeteria named after St. John Paul II. They are daily points of reference for hundreds of people in need in the Esquilino, a multi-ethnic district marked by numerous social problems. Thus, the Bishop of Rome chose this symbolic place at the heart of his diocese.
Pope Francis wanted the meeting with guests of the Shelter to be extremely simple, with no official welcome or special ceremonies.
After having opened the Holy Door of Charity, the Pope entered the dining hall, where the altar for Mass had been prepared. About 200 people were gathered there: all guests of the welcoming facilities, accompanied by volunteers and workers. Every night around 200 guests come to the Shelter, and the dining hall serves dinner to almost 500 people each night. The service of the liturgy was entrusted especially to them, and the hosts and the wine for the celebration were significantly prepared on the table where dinner is served every evening.
After the Mass, before leaving, the Pope gave a final greeting, which was followed by a song from those present, who, since his birthday had been the day before, sang a festive “Happy birthday”. Pope Francis then recalled: “Christmas is near, the Lord is near. And when the Lord was born there, in that manger, no one noticed that he was God. On this Christmas I would like”, he said, “that the Lord be born in each of our hearts, hidden... in this way no one notices, but the Lord is there. I wish this for you, this happiness of the closeness of the Lord”. In conclusion he said: “Pray for me, and I will pray for you. Thank you”.
The Pope then paused in the hall to greet those present and as he left he paused briefly in prayer, standing in silence, in the chapel adjacent to the dining hall. At 5:35 PM, after thanking Msgr Feroci, the director of Rome’s Caritas, he took leave of the many faithful who were waiting outside and returned by car to the Vatican.
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