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From Toronto to Rome

The common voice of the poor

 The common voice of the poor  ING-027
07 July 2023

We discovered “L’Osservatore di strada” last October during a visit to Rome to meet with friends of the Sant’Egidio community. It was love at first sight. We were struck by the many stories published, so rich in humanity, and especially by the fact that, unlike many publications “about the poor,” in this newspaper it is the poor who speak, who tell their stories in the first person.

When we returned to Toronto, Canada, to our community, which is part of the Orthodox Church, we immediately got in touch with the editorial team, proposing to collaborate on a regular basis, offering to tell the story of people living on the streets here in Toronto, and publishing, in turn, a few stories of people living on the streets in Rome.

When, then, I shared this project with some poor people in our Mission in Toronto, I felt a certain incredulity: “Who could possibly be interested in what we have to give?” As Nicolaie, our priest, often reminds us, the poor suffer from the perception that no one wants what they have to give, even though society would greatly need it.

Thus began the beautiful adventure between St. John — The Compassionate Mission in Toronto and “L’Osservatore di strada.” The star of our first contribution was Manuel, a First Nations man from Canada who lives on the street in Toronto. It was for us such an important moment of sharing and connection, to see his story published along with those of other people experiencing the same homelessness as him in Rome.

“L’Osservatore di strada” traces what we have been doing with our publications for more than 37 years, seeking to give voice and value to the stories and wisdom of the poor who are at the center of the daily life of our mission. Those who visit our website (www.stjohnsmission.org) can read the latest edition of the “Street Observer” and realize the deep harmony of vision between us.

Often, the poor are surprised that their words are important enough to be read in Rome. At the same time, for us, being able to read stories that come from Rome makes us even more aware of the many challenges facing the poor around the world.

Canadian society tends to be somewhat closed in on itself: issues such as refugees and migrants are not felt in the same way as they are in Italy or other countries. The poor also suffer from this. “L’Osservatore di strada” therefore helps us to broaden our gaze. It is important to embody ourselves concretely in a given reality, but at the same time, especially today, it is crucial to be able to share the universal struggle of the poor and give voice to the poor. They are the future of our societies and our churches.

It is also good to have found, through “L’Osservatore di strada,” a different way of doing ecumenism between the Catholic and Orthodox churches. It is a joy for us to share what we hold in common: Christ in the voice and lives of the poor.

By Roberto Ubertino