Sister Maria Giovanna Titone, CSJ, a Sister of St. Joseph of Chambèry, runs a parish dormitory in northern Italy, and shares how she was able to “touch so many stories” and learn to take on much bigger challenges than herself.
By Sr. Maria Giovanna Titone, CSJ
Coordinating the management of a parish dormitory involves coming into direct contact with many stories.
My previous experiences volunteering with homeless people were perhaps more about finding “strategies” to approach them and give them what little I could: something to eat or drink, a few forced words of comfort and comfort. encouragement, as well as useful, or presumably useful, information.
Running a drop-in center, on the other hand, comes with its own set of challenges. It is about setting aside even your best intentions to make room for the lives of the people we welcome and continuing to proclaim Christian hope even in the face of the powerlessness to which we are so often exposed.
Dormitory in the Italian city of Ravenna
Our “Good Samaritan” dormitory, located in the parish of Saint Rocco in the Italian city of Ravenna, faces the daily challenge of relating to resignation and loss of meaning. Quite striking are the continuous requests for housing from young migrants, who find themselves in limbo while waiting to have papers and to be inserted into the increasingly crowded CAS (Centres d’Hébergement Extraordinaires).
Ravenna is not part of the main migration route, but it has been learned that the police headquarters are faster in processing documents – inaccurate information – and therefore many migrants take this route in the hope of speed up the process of obtaining legal status in Italy. But they end up facing long periods of waiting (two to eight months, on average) without work, housing or money — in other words, on the streets.
Equally numerous are the requests of people suffering from mental illnesses and addictions, who do not find adequate protection either in their families or in the health system and therefore end up going in and out of dormitories like ours.
Our small structure, which in the era of the Covid can accommodate up to 15 men and three women, is thus faced with challenges much greater than itself. I have often wondered what it means to live the Gospel message in this dormitory, which requires determination, attention to detail and an overview, concern for relations with public institutions, knowledge of the territory and its resources. , and awareness of one’s own personal limits and limits of acceptance, without falling into a “savior complex” or discouragement. In fact, we find ourselves having to make difficult decisions, such as turning away certain people because of aggression or serious violations of the house rules, or saying “no” to the reception, acknowledging that we are not able to solve some of the problems that our customers encounter. .
Taking care of these lonely people is not the responsibility of our small reception structure, founded more than 20 years ago by Father Ugo Salvatori, priest of the Archdiocese of Ravenna-Cervia, and carried by volunteers, taking on the drama of these people, alone.
The administrations with which we try to network often end up relying on realities like ours to provide emergency responses in situations where such assistance should be recognized as a right. It is well known that there is a shortage of economic resources and personnel to follow up cases. There is a lack of adequate structures to accommodate people with health and housing needs, and bureaucratic waiting times to legalize the presence of migrants in our country are too long and uncertain.
Precisely for all these reasons, providing a bed and a shower is not enough, whereas for the people we welcome, a bed and a shower are enough to save them from the streets and from despair. We must be the voice of those who are voiceless in our Western society, by attracting the attention of institutions and public opinion so that the memory of the least is not only an electoral campaign slogan but a requirement of good citizenship, even before a charity requirement.
Charity and Christian Hope
As Christians, we cannot be satisfied with politicians who use religious symbols to garner votes. We must be demanding and demand that the projects and the administrative choices related to them meet the real needs of the populations, and in particular of the most vulnerable.
Charity and Christian hope, from the point of view offered to me by this little parish dormitory, cannot be satisfied by the little we can do. We need an active and critical conscience that feels the imperative to promote social justice and commits itself, through concrete choices, to asking that the slightest not be exploited and then forgotten.
As a Church, we must ensure that our founding values are not used to create a division between those who can or cannot receive the sacraments, but are concretely realized in political and social decisions that promote a society in which the human dignity of every woman and man is recognized.
As Cardinal Matteo Maria Zuppi, President of the Italian Episcopal Conference, pointed out when he thanked the former [Italian] Prime Minister Draghi, “we must think of people’s suffering and guarantee serious, non-ideological or misleading answers, which even indicate, if necessary, sacrifices, while giving security and reasons for hope”; “fundamental political dialogue must not be disrespectful and must be characterized by knowledge of the problems, by common visions without cunning, by passion for public affairs and not by … a competitiveness which aims only at petty individualistic positions not problem solving”.