ROME, JAN. 6, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI does more than proclaim the message of Christmas; he also lives it, visiting a Roman soup kitchen to lunch with the poor and hand out gifts to the children there.
After the Pope prayed the midday Angelus on Dec. 27, he visited the traditional Roman neighborhood of Trastevere, the location of a soup kitchen and education center run by the Catholic lay Community of San’Egidio.
Twelve representatives of the poor sat at the Holy Father’s table, including a four-person Gypsy family, a 34-year-old political refugee from Afghanistan, a 90-year-old Italian widower, and a 25-year-old man in a wheelchair who was abandoned by his family because of his handicap.
A 63-year-old Somali Muslim woman also sat at the Pontiff’s table. She arrived to Rome in the ’80s, seeking medical assistance for her disabled son. A 35-year-old Nigerian Catholic was also in the group. He crossed the desert of Libya to reach Italy. A 52-year-old homeless man who sells wares on the street was another guest at the Holy Father’s table, as was a 66-year-old ex-circus worker, who returned to Italy during the war between Iraq and Iran.
The poor — around 200 people — and the Pope enjoyed a meal of lasagna, meatballs, lentils and mashed potatoes. Candies brought by the Pope formed part of dessert and there was a toast with sparkling wine.
After eating, Benedict XVI distributed gifts to the 31 children present: The oldest received dolls, trucks, planes, puzzles and books. The babies got rattles and stuffed animals.
The Holy Father told them that he came to visit “precisely on the feast of the Holy Family because in a certain way, that family is similar to you.”
“In fact,” he explained, “Jesus’ family, from the very beginning, also ran into difficulties: It endured the worry of not finding hospitality, it found itself obligated to emigrate to Egypt because of the violence of King Herod.”
“You know well what difficulty means, but you have someone who loves you and who helps you,” the Holy Father said, referring to the San’Egidio Community. They offer “diligent service,” the Pope affirmed, and “offer a sign of the love of God for the poor.”
The founder of the group, Andrea Riccardi, received the Holy Father at the center, as did Bishop Vincenzo Paglia of Terni-Narni-Amelia, the ecclesial assistant of the community.
The Pontiff addressed the organizers of the event, but above all, the guests present.
“During lunch,” he said, “I’ve been able to hear some of your sorrowful and difficult stories: stories of the elderly, of immigrants, of the homeless, of Gypsies, of the disabled, of people with economic and other difficulties … all of you, in one way or another, knocked about by life. I am here among you to tell you that I am close to you, that I love you and that your difficulties are not far from the thoughts of the Pope, but rather at their center, and in the heart of the community of believers.”
Recognizing the service that the San’Egidio Community offers, he affirmed that “to love and to serve gives the joy of the Lord who says, ‘There is more joy in giving than receiving.'”
“In this time of particular economic difficulties,” the Pope continued, “each one [of you] should be a sign of hope and a witness of a new world for those who, enclosed in their egoism and the illusion of finding happiness alone, live in sadness or in a passing gladness that leaves the heart empty.”