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Rome Notes: Mission Land in Rome; Down on the Death Penalty

Street Missions in the Heart of Christendom

By Catherine Smibert

ROME, OCT. 29, 2004 (Zenit) - Many people tend to consider Rome as place where missionaries are trained and then sent out to evangelize other lands. But I discovered that Rome's needs are just as great as the rest of the world, when I encountered some people working in direct ministry to the Eternal City.

At a Vatican conference this week organized by the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, a Roman challenged the widely held view that the problem of street children, for instance, is a phenomenon restricted to the Southern Hemisphere.

"When I decided to go and simply share the joy of the risen Lord with those around Termini Station," Rome's central train station, said Chiara Amirante of the Italian association New Horizons, "I never imagined to find such a broken people."

Amirante was addressing the group of experienced experts in street mission who were present -- according to the secretary of the pontifical council, Archbishop Agostino Marchetto -- in order "to learn from each other to better design pastoral programs in response to the desperate situation that is children without real homes and families."

In her presentation Amirante emphasized the horrific plight of the youth of Rome and other First World cities in Europe.

"How many marginalized, lonely youth I saw," she said. "How many, forced to sell their bodies to unscrupulous people, lose their total sense of dignity."

After describing what she called "the hell of the streets," complete with addictions, deviance, AIDS and crime, Amirante outlined her team's plan of action.

"We divide the city into sections and study each section from the schools, pubs or clubs," she explained. This helps her team better understand all circumstances surrounding the youth groups.

"Some surprisingly come from good families and are merely seduced by the 'promised pleasures' of life, while others have a history of being abused," she said.

Next, "we bombard these areas with the love of Christ," Amirante said. "Street Missions" -- groups of up to 100 volunteers at a time -- present a range of events, from musical performances, testimonies of faith, and moments of meditation and prayer, to information stalls and workshops.

"The enthusiasm and joy of the missionaries is an immense force ... that begins the journey of change for many youth," she said. "In this year alone, we have held five major Street Missions and reached out to at least 40,000 young people."

"Not all turn back from the brink, however," Amirante acknowledged. "Though I've witnessed many miracles, I have seen many deaths. This is an urgent situation and one solution can be found in forming new missionaries."

This is precisely what another outreach group is doing in Rome.

It is run by a Filipino priest who came to minister to needy immigrants in Rome. His apostolate, for which he is the main chaplain, is called Spirituality 118.

A Missionary of St. Charles, Father Alberto Gilvara is teaching a course that will accredit ethnic volunteers to assist in cases where foreigners are in hospitals, alone and confused and unfamiliar with the language. This priest knows firsthand how important such a mission is.

"I arrived in Rome, went from the airport to the hospital, and experienced an intense sense of loneliness and desolation," Father Gilvara remembers.

"The fact that I couldn't communicate my concerns properly to anyone was bad enough through the language barrier, but the worst aspect was not being able to feel the warmth of a loving family around me," he says.

Father Gilvara's team tries to provide just that. "As soon as a migrant belonging to a certain ethnic community is confined to hospital, the chaplain there would notify Spirituality 118 and a volunteer from that cultural group will go and look after the needs of that person."

While the apostolate is intended for migrants who are confined to hospitals, its scope doesn't stop there. Even more-established migrants suffer under the threat of losing their jobs and consequently their residence. And immigrants and foreigners in general can face bureaucratic challenges, the priest notes.

Hence, his group aims to provide a comprehensive service that will answer many of the problems surrounding immigration.

"The course they do, helps the volunteers to confront the realities of the sick person," Father Gilvara said. "The candidates should have some background from legislation [and] ecumenism, to medicine."

This allows them to become expert caregivers, "not only able to take care of their co-nationals but also of their local community, thus creating job opportunities for them."

Though ...

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