White Night; House on Humility Street

A Fund-raiser Shows Rome’s Soul

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By Catherine Smibert

ROME, SEPT. 15, 2005 (Zenit.org).- In recent years Rome has begun a tradition of throwing a lavish all-night party each September.

On «White Night» the Eternal City stays open round the clock. The revelry extends from the city center to the suburbs and is expressed in artistic and cultural events which unfold some of Rome’s rarest treasures. This year’s event takes place Saturday.

Behind its hype and glamour, White Night offers deep opportunities for solidarity. Out of the 500 activities in the evening’s program, many include direct acts of charitable fund-raising. Among the official beneficiaries is a Catholic venture, the Ain Karim Family Accommodation.

Ain Karim comprises a series of apartments-turned-help-centers, located in the Tiburtina district, set up to welcome and assist pregnant women and mothers with young children in need. Specialized social workers, psychologists and assistants comprise the Ain Karim team.

One of these assistants, Chiara Berranaca, talked about the group’s struggle for acknowledgment from the city.

«Our main aim when we placed the request to be potential recipients of some of the evening’s charitable aspects was to let them know that we’re here, we’re doing good work for these families and we’ll take any help we can get,» she said.

Berranaca told me that before now, all funds have been raised by the ethnic groups from where the mothers come. These groups prepare unique ethnic menus for special events around town.

This year’s fund-raising venture is getting everyone involved — even prisoners. The cooperative of Rome’s local Rebbibbia Jail have worked to produce T-shirts for White Night with the telltale label «Made in Jail.»

Rome’s mayor, Walter Veltroni, says the «Notte Bianca» is an event capable of «facilitating a more reflective frame of mind, paying attention to everyday matters.»

Beyond the mix of White Night events — taste-testing of wines and foods in the piazzas; performing acrobats in the imperial Forum; displays of fireworks over the Colosseum; a tour by night of the Cinecittà Studios — the mayor hopes that people find a way to help groups such as Ain Karim find a happy ending.

«Rome,» he said, «is a city with extraordinary empathy.»

* * *

Casa Santa Maria

As Rome’s school year begins, one abode is working hard to provide peaceful assistance to all Catholic English-speakers alike — particularly priests, during this transitional period.

It’s the Casa Santa Maria, just around the corner from the Trevi Fountain at the base of the Quirinale Hill.

According to its new superior, Monsignor Francis Kelly, «It’s a place unique in its true sense of fraternal commitment.»

This ex-rector of some notable U.S. seminaries told me how «in these past two weeks since arriving […] I’m already so impressed with the quality and the dedication of the men here.»

The men are the diocesan priests who are housed at the Casa. The house accommodates them as they do advanced studies in the sacred sciences at various pontifical universities.

Purported to be the «largest house of diocesan priests in the world, living together,» this «House on Humility Street» has been a place of study, reflection, recreation and prayer for 400 years in various ways.

Monsignor Kelly recounted the Casa’s history from the mid-1800s when Pope Pius IX recognized a need for the promotion of good formation for the growing Church of North America. The house was updated since then, its ranks expanded.

«We start the new school year of 2005-2006 with a total enrolment of 71 priests from not just the U.S. but other English-speaking countries also … 11 up from last year alone,» Monsignor Kelly said.

As he showed me around the gorgeous complex, Monsignor Kelly explained: «If anything, the need is greater still today to have priests with a very complete theological background in a world, especially in the English-speaking world, where people are so well educated and where the currents of secularism have made such a major impact on society and on culture.

«There’s an even greater urgency that we have priests who are able to articulately and intelligently explain and defend the Catholic faith — its moral teachings, its doctrinal teachings and so forth — so the need, if anything, is greater today.»

Monsignor Kelly noted: «There is a significant increase in the number of priests who will be studying moral theology.» He believes this «reflects the fact that so many new biomedical, ethical questions have arisen in our world today and the Church needs to be able to address those issues and questions in the best way.»

As well as their training, these clerics can be impacted by their very lifestyle while staying at the Casa.

«Beyond emphasizing the intellectual and scholastic dimension,» Monsignor Kelly felt it important to mention the men’s common life of prayer.

«For instance,» he said, in the morning «we join to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and then Evening Prayer at the end of the day. We share community Masses — at school days on different hours to accommodate the men’s schedule but on Sunday we have a different Mass with all of us together.»

Such prayer, and mutual support, are vital helps for priests who are far from their home country and parish, Monsignor Kelly said.

The atmosphere of the house is also assisted by its location, he added. «We are always reminded here of the presence of our forefather Peter and this brings us back to consider the very foundations of the Church.

«So from the experience of being here in Rome and the history of sanctity which is on every corner that you turn, the men will go back to whatever assignments they’re given in the English-speaking world with a more deeply committed faith and a real heartfelt sense of the mystery of the Church and I think that will be a fire that will touch others to deepen their faith and essentially inspire vocations.»

The Casa Santa Maria has also proved its worthiness as a pivotal point when it comes to dealings in the realm of Vatican tourism.

Whether it’s tickets for papal audiences or for the Vatican Gardens or St. Peter’s scavi tours, the Casa is the place to contact via its Office of the Audiences, at nacvisoffrome@pnac.org. You can write to Via dell’Umiltà 30, 00187 Rome, or send a request by fax to 39-06-679-1448.

For more information you can also call 39-06-686-8553 or 39-06-690-0189.

This is all just a part of the Casa Santa Maria’s charism of hospitality.

* * *

Fairest Furniture

Among Rome’s many charitable works, one that stands out for me is the Don Guanella Furniture Fair.

For almost century, as donations of old furniture arrived to help with the Guanelliani complex for the disabled, their warehouse on Via Aurelia Antica has caused a lot of traffic and raised a lot of funds.

The money collected from these Thursday afternoon (3-6 p.m.) and Saturday (9 a.m.-noon and 3-6 p.m.) drives goes directly to assisting the ever increasing number of handicapped people who reside or undergo therapy with the specially trained Guanelliani staff.

And don’t worry if your item is too large for you to move. The director of Don Guanella’s charitable works, Father Fabio Lorenzetti, tells me that a pickup van is supplied for those who are willing to give bigger items.

Some donated furniture that arrives might not initially be fit for sale. On certain occasions those pieces come back to life when they are taken to the therapy workshops, where they are re-polished and re-decorated beautifully by the residents.

Father Lorenzetti pointed at some spectacular works in his office as an example of what can
be produced with a little care and faith. From the mahogany chest, the cork table, and the coat rack to the colorfully painted rubbish bin, you can see how items are reworked with a special love.

So if you have old furniture you’d like to donate, contact the Don Guanella charity. You might even end up bringing something else home with you.

* * *

Mary’s Birthday

A glorious abundance of fresh blooms in Rome greeted me at every turn on Sept. 8, birthday of the Blessed Virgin.

It was touching indeed to see sights such as a little old woman stooping to place pink roses at the foot of a statue of the Madonna and sending her «very best wishes and congratulations» on the occasion from «one old mother to an older one.»

Rome is well known for its monuments, but not necessarily for those most locally revered: those of the Blessed Mother.

Whether sculpted into a dilapidated wall or painted on the side of a house, images of Mary seem to follow you around the entire city.

Accompanying each crafted image are usually assorted flowers and varying sizes of metallic heart-shaped ex-voto. These are all symbols of thanks for Mary’s response to people’s prayers or «for grace received.»

Some images are as old as the time where Christians had to assert their presence. Others were commissioned by aristocratic families throughout the Renaissance, while still further ones were organized by the inhabitants of each particular street in the interest of having her as their own «protector.»

Though some shrines are poor in appearance, they are rich in history and faithfulness, each upholding its own variation on the theme of Mary’s persona.

Here we recognize yet another way Our Lady has impacted this city. Her illustrated dependability runs to the core of Rome’s still-deep concept of the vocation of motherhood.

Whether portrayed as a «Madonnina» (Roberto Ferruzzi’s «little mother»), Our Lady of the Streets (as paid for by the Astalli Family in 425) or as a majestic queen, Rome would not be Rome without Her at its heart.

* * *

Catherine Smibert can be reached at catherine@zenit.org.

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