Tag Archives: community

Trip Advisor * * * * * The City Of Rome

THE Italian Ice Cream shop - Della Palma - Gelato di Roma

THE Italian Ice Cream shop – Della Palma – Gelato di Roma

This final reflection on my visit to Rome provides an overall review of the trip, highlighting some of my thoughts of which I have already written about in the rest of the series and adding new insights

Maybe it’s a wee bit nostalgic to imagine Audrey Hepburn discovering the delights of Rome but nevertheless this Roman Holiday was more of a pilgrimage to discover the origins of the Christian faith in the earthly bound eternal city and which has left a lasting impression of constancy and commitment.

Arriving in the early hours of Tuesday morning, it was left to my imagination what the view might be from the window of my room, as we were welcomed to the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas; but nothing prepared me for the sheer beauty and sense of antiquity as I looked out to see the Coliseum at the foot of the garden and in the distance the Palatine Hill and other landmarks I’d only read about and yet felt I already knew. Yet, it was watching a small flock of sparrows and wondering if their antecedents had once pecked a living among the Roman temples and busy forums that it really struck home just how incredible this city is in terms of all of our histories.

The View from the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas

The View from the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas

Our week was packed with visits to these monuments to a great civilisation, and the grandiose basilicas and mausoleums provided opportunities to understand the importance and power that the Roman Empire wielded across the known world at its height.

Arch of Titus

Arch of Titus

Still, in amongst all of these shows of dominance, the first sparks of the Christian revolution that was to spring into being and eventually triumph, began to reveal themselves. Whether strolling along cobbled streets and entering houses, where the first-century Christians began to meet in secret…

Original Roman Streets at San Gregorio Magno al Celio

Some of the original Roman streets at San Gregorio Magno al Celio

…or circumnavigating the walls of the Coliseum and peering down into the arena space, imagining how it must have felt to be waiting to be brought out to a public spectacle and certain death or hearing about St Peter’s cruel death in the Circus of Nero and seeing where his remains were buried, originally outside the Vatican necropolis. [Supersize Faith] All of these things brought to life those dry, dusty textbooks that we study.

Roman Christianity -The Cross in the Colosseum

Roman Christianity -The Cross in the Coliseum

Perhaps though the most poignant moment came as we gathered below ground and stood together in the building where they believe that St Paul was held whilst he was under house arrest and listened to a reading from his second letter to Timothy, all the while feeling very close to the zealous ‘apostle’ [Within and Without]

From the past to the present, we also had the opportunity to visit and hear about the work of the Comunità di Sant’Egidio [An Example of Cheerful Giving], a group of lay Christians who sacrificially devote some of their spare time to working with many disadvantaged groups within the city. Their ‘soup’ kitchen provides meals for up to a 1000 people each day and care is taken to treat everyone with respect as well as forming ‘familial’ relationships.

The community is also proactive, and its project in setting up and running a restaurant staffed by a unique mix of ‘amico and amica’ – some of whom have learning disabilities – is a great success which is drawing comments from neighbouring establishments who are now beginning to be more inclusive in their own choice of staffing – and the food was delicious too!

Pause for Thought

Pause for Thought

Obviously it wasn’t all about learning – we had plenty of fun too! From surviving the inimitable style of the Rome taxi drivers (would-be extras from ‘The Italian Job’) to browsing along the Via dei Cestari for ecclesiastical ‘tat’ (would that be cardinal red socks or papal purple?).

So much choice!

So much choice!

As well as evenings walking through the busy piazzas soaking up the atmosphere and nightlife. Even the papal audience, which meant several hours sitting under the glaring sun was both interesting (can there be such a thing as a papal groupie?) and at the same time inspirational.

The Pilgrims Gather

The Pilgrims Gather

All in all an incredible week with so much more that I could still tell you about. New sights, new friendships, new understandings. Ciao!

A papal audience with Pope Francis

A papal audience with Pope Francis



Sant’Egidio – An Example of Cheerful Giving

Comunità di Sant'Egidio

Comunità di Sant’Egidio

The second in a series of reflections following a visit to Rome to discover its links with the early Christian church and the church as it is today

Up until a month ago I had never heard of a saint called Egidio, and even when I found out that it was the Italian translation of St Giles I had to look up who he was. Having done so I discovered that Giles was a hermit monk who lived deep in a forest with only a hind [female deer] for company. One day when the king and his retinue came a-hunting, an arrow, intended for the deer, struck and wounded Giles and thereafter he became the patron saint of those who were physically and mentally challenged and as a consequence were often those cast out from society.

It was therefore entirely appropriate when a community of lay Christians chose the church of Sant’Egidio in the Trastevere area of Rome to become a centre for continuous prayer and welcome for the poor and pilgrims. This was back in 1968 and since then the work that the community has done since and is still doing amongst the poor, the homeless, the dispossessed and quite frankly the unloved has been amazing.

Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly
or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver – 2 Corinthians 9:7

 When one thinks of giving it is often in the sense of a monetary capacity – donations to various charities, towards the upkeep of our churches, payrolling the official ministry team – but at Sant’Egidio’s the giving is from the heart, entirely voluntary and selfless. All of the volunteers are lay members of the church, often with full-time paid employment or family commitments who agree to be part of the community as regularly and as often as they can; not simply as an occasional act of philanthropy but as an inclusive life-choice.

Christmas Meal in the church of Sant'Egidio

Christmas Meal in the church of Sant’Egidio

Their main work is in solidarity with the poor and homeless who end up for a multitude of reasons on the streets of Rome,  and who each day are welcomed into the Centre for a meal, use of the washing facilities (both bodies and clothes) and healthcare through the medical centre. The meals themselves are not simply doled out – care and attention is paid to offer a proper substantial meal, with fruits and drinks, presented on cloth-covered tables, proper cutlery and served by the helpers with smiles and respect. At Christmas time this meal turns into a huge banquet served in the church itself with personalised… yes personalised  presents for each and every person there.

‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you’ Luke 14:12-14

Prayers are offered each day

Prayers are offered each day

The Community also provides spiritual support to those in need because the heart and the life of the community is in communicating the Gospel both in word and action. Each day prayers are offered at both morning and evening worship. However, it is often spiritual matters of a more practical nature that are of concern. Many of the street people have been abandoned by or lost touch with their families and they are worried about what will happen to them when they die. Here the community steps in to reassure them that even at this moment they can rest assured that as part of the community family they will receive a proper funeral and their memories will be treasured through continuing prayer.

Just some of the Amicos who work in the Sant'Egidio sponsored restaurant

Just some of the Amicos who work in the Sant’Egidio sponsored restaurant

The work of the community doesn’t stop at acting responsively, it is also proactive and its project in setting up and running a restaurant staffed by a unique mix of ‘amico and amica’ – some of whom have learning disabilities – is a great success which is drawing comments from neighbouring establishments who are now beginning to be more inclusive in their own choice of staffing – and the food is delicious too!

Other projects that the community is involved in are working with immigrants, refugees and the Roma people to overcome language barriers where bureaucracy is involved and running ‘Schools of Peace’ for families and children. They are also active in ecumenical dialogue, which is just one of the reasons we were welcomed so warmly during our visit.

All in all I came away from the experience feeling incredibly uplifted by the sheer demonstration of what can be achieved when we choose to live our lives wholly sacrificially –  because joy certainly abounds when Christ is placed at the centre of everything.

The interior of the church of Sant'Egidio, Trastevere, Rome

The interior of the church of Sant’Egidio, Trastevere, Rome

More information about the work of the community can be found here: http://www.santegidio.org/

When Is A Toilet Not A Toilet?

Can all members of the public use the Public Conveniences?

Can all members of the public use the Public Conveniences?

You may well be asking what has a question about toilets got to do with ordination training? Yet it has turned out recently to be the most basic and essential necessity of finding a toilet that really brought it home to me how we so often both intentionally and unintentionally exclude a large group of people within society

One of my fellow ordinands, Helena, is a former lawyer and is a passionate advocate and fierce protector of people’s rights. She also has Multiple Sclerosis and uses a mobility scooter and therefore knows first-hand what the world looks like to a disabled person. She, like the majority of disabled people, doesn’t just want and need to be as independent as possible, but believes that each and every one of us has to become much more aware of what needs to be done to create a naturally inclusive society; which brings me back to toilets!

We’ve all heard the stories of inconsiderate able-bodied car drivers who blatantly park in a disabled parking space thus denying any genuine blue badge holders from doing so; but what about all those who deliberately use the designated disabled toilets, because they are the closest, which on becoming blocked force the person in the wheelchair to have no facilities at all?

That is just one specific instance, but what about when a community in which disabled people live shows too little consideration or awareness of their needs? A case in point is when we went on a field trip to a neighbouring village to the college. Firstly, I have to say that I am not singling out this particular community, as regretfully it is not unique, and it should be acknowledged that the organisers of the trip should have completed a health and safety assessment prior to the visit. However, if what happened, on the surface appears laughable, it is also deeply thought provoking

Everybody needs to go to the toilet – fact. Everybody is aware that not all buildings they visit will have toilet facilities – fact. Everybody knows that where public toilets are provided they can use them…………

The church we were visiting did not have a toilet, which was reasonable enough given its age and listed-building status; the vicarage did have toilets (as you would expect) except the vicarage itself was inaccessible to a person in a wheelchair. Where then was Helena, who not unreasonably had reached the point when she wished to avail herself of these facilities, to go? The public conveniences were about 200 yards from the vicarage but on arriving at them we saw that there was no designated disabled toilet, in fact there were steps to get into both the ladies and gents (see picture above)

Where else could we try? Fifty yards down the road, the Catholic church was situated in a lovely new building with signposted disabled parking and push button entry access to presumably up to date toilet facilities – but the building was locked and empty. Around the corner there was a public house, and calling through the open back door we asked if we were able to use their toilets. We may, but whilst we could get into the pub, the toilets had a step down to them. Retracing our steps, we were advised that a key had been found for the village hall, this was some 500 yards in the opposite direction. Here there was a small disabled toilet, barely large enough to allow Helena to enter with her scooter and hopelessly maintained so that the clutch rail would not stay upright. We spend several minutes with the two of us trying manoeuvre ourselves, one holding up the rail, the other trying to fit into the cubicle, before I could step outside and she was finally able to relieve herself – so much for self-esteem and independence!

All in all this farce lasted about 40 minutes, and I jokingly said to Helena that it was good job she could hold on. To my dismay she told me that for many disabled people this was not the case – it’s called ‘social incontinence’, where lack of disabled facilities force otherwise continent people to resort to incontinence products simply to be able to go out into the world for any length of time. One more example of the removal of a person’s dignity.

Helena was just one person in that place at that time, but how many more people have come up time and again against the same problems and instead of feeling welcomed and able to play their full part in their communities have felt excluded and devalued.

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters,
if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions?
James 2:14

It is a hundred years since people and governments became more aware of the need to make provision for the disabled, following the many thousands of men who returned incapacitated from the First World War, either blind or limbless. One hundred years in which we have come a long way to recognise the equality of all in society and yet we still exclude and marginalise the disabled through not consulting or considering fully their needs, so that they can just BE

Maybe it’s time to look around the places you live and work in, remembering that it’s not just toilets but other things like ramps and rails; and when you spot something that needs changing, then do what needs to be done to make that change happen, including asking the people for whom you are doing it  what it is they really need.

Helena, endures much in the way that she has to adapt in order to undertake her studies and she shouldn’t have to. As I walk alongside her she has made me more and more aware of issues that should change and transform how we think and act as individuals, as a society and as Christians. This sort of teaching, in my mind, will always be more valuable than anything that an academic text book has to say.

An inclusive society means no-one should feel excluded

An inclusive society means no-one should be excluded

This piece has been written with the full permission of my friend and fellow Ordinand, Helena