Monday, January 27, 2014


You cant tell, but it's pouring down rain
Greetings from a cold and wet Rome! While a Roman winter may not be as bad as the winter many of you are experiencing in the USA right now, it's still pretty chilly (and very damp). Especially if you are part of the refugee community here and you don't have adequate housing. Housing for the guests of the JNRC is a constant concern. Many of these guys are living in places called a centro, which is a limited-time shelter for refugees. Once you've hit your allotted amount of time in a centro, you're back out on the street. There are a few other options for refugees when they've hit their time limit, like the tent center which resembles a refugee camp you'd see in a war-torn county, but even the tent has time limits set on it. Housing is a vicious cycle for many refugees in Rome. It's not possible to get sustainable housing without a well paying job (Rome is just too expensive to live in), and it's not possible to get a job until they've gone through the commission process to get legal refugee status (which can take a year or longer). Depending on how long the commission process takes, many of the guys run out of time in the centros and tents before they can even get their papers to start work. It's a very stark reality.

With all this in mind, Jill and I sat down with the new St. Paul's intern, Areeta, and two of the Artisans, Maiga and Syed, to discuss housing last week. If you are from the Diocese of Western North Carolina, then you might be familiar with a program called Room-In-The-Inn (RITI). RITI is a traveling emergency shelter for women in the WNC area. Each week a different church/business/school hosts the shelter. The host facility provides the space needed for the shelter, food for the guests, and volunteers to help out. RITI provides the infrastructure needed to make the shelter happen (beds, bedding, transportation, etc.). Jill had the idea to try and adapt the RITI approach to work with the refugee community in Rome. There are countless church spaces in Rome that are literally sitting unused, and there are countless more that are used but should be willing to host a group like this. It's going to take a lot of sitting down and working with different churches and figuring it all out, but I think this idea has a good chance of working. Will it solve the refugee housing issues in Rome? No. (But you have to start somewhere)

During this conversation, Jill mentioned that we should write the Pope. This struck me as funny because 1) I've never been in a situation where writing the Pope in hopes of getting something done was not just a shot in the dark/crazy idea, and 2) I've never been in a place where if I wrote a letter to the Pope about business, not only is there a good chance that the Pope would read it, but also respond to it. In Italy, it's all about who you know. If you know the right people, things get done.

Papa Francesco
The idea of different churches coming together to tackle the refugee housing crisis is very fitting for this time of year as we have just finished the week of prayer for Christian unity. The ecumenical community in Rome has been very busy this past week with all sorts of services, speeches, meetings, and conferences all about christian unity. The Canadian Council of Churches picked this years theme, "Has Christ been divided?"I had the opportunity to attend a few of these activities during the past week, including the Papal vespers on Saturday. The service was held at St. Paul's Outside the Walls, which is one of the larger churches in Rome. I think that anyone who has been paying attention to the work that Pope Francis has been doing can understand how much of an honor it was to hear the Pope speak on the topic of Christian unity (even though I didn't technically understand anything while he spoke). You can find a transcript of his homily here.

"We are all journeying together, fraternally, on the road towards unity, bringing about unity even as we walk; that unity comes from the Holy Spirit and brings us something unique which only the Holy Spirit can do, that is, reconciling our differences. The Lord waits for us all, accompanies us all, and is with us all on this path of unity."

The group of us waiting to get into St. Paul's

St. Paul's is HUGE

Christian unity is an easy thing to hope for, but it's definitely not as easy to implement. The final service of the week of prayer was on Sunday at San Silvestro. A congregation of Anglicans, Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans, and more came together for a chance to all pray as one. I thought it was beautiful that after a week of talk of unity, these churches came together and raised a pretty sizable donation for the JNRC emergency housing fund. Actions almost always speak louder than words. Even though the week of prayer for unity is over, I encourage you all to seek as many ecumenical opportunities as possible. Reach out to someone from a denomination that isn't your own. Or better yet, visit a church different from your own denomination. Even though the church may be divided, I think we can all agree that Christ is not.

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