Juan José Gutiérrez Quinteros, cmf.
Roma Banchi Vecci
I am 31 years old, I am from El Salvador, and I have been assigned to the province of Sanctus Paulus. I arrived in Rome two years ago, and now I live in the Claretian community of Banchi Vecchi, located in the center of Rome. I am currently studying and collaborating in “the listening center,” a project coordinated by Fr. Franco Incampo cmf and assumed by a group of committed laypeople.
Since its inception, the project emerged to serve the most vulnerable people by welcoming them, listening to them, and helping them with their basic needs. Currently, the service provided covers three days a week; on Sundays, 250 lunches are distributed. On Mondays, about 200 people are received, talked to, and offered immediate assistance: hygiene articles and aid bags with basic foodstuffs. We also arrange assistance with the Vicariate of Rome, the Apostolic Almshouse of the Holy See, and other organizations that collaborate with the center. On Wednesdays, about 50 people are received; they are provided with breakfast and clothing in optimal conditions.
Since I arrived, I found it an exciting project because I consider it an antidote to the indifference, selfishness, and dehumanization that currently threatens us. Moreover, it makes us go out to meet others, especially the poorest: “privileged recipients of the Kingdom.” And for us as consecrated men and women, it makes us more aware that “one cannot be a Claretian as if the poor did not exist.”
So, my first contact with this experience has motivated me to continue assuming my missionary vocation. Our missionary way of life cannot and should not be limited to liturgical acts alone! Some people are having a hard time every day and expect us to be heard and cared for. I believe that Fr. Franco Incampo has perceived, understood, and assumed well the integration of both aspects. Pope Francis himself encourages us in these times to “listen even more strongly to the call of the Church to emphasize much more in us, with audacity and creativity, the option for the poor and the displaced.” These are the guests who visit us in the “listening center”: the poor, the displaced, the elderly. In this sense, I would dare to say that this “Center,” in its smallness and simplicity, embodies the Gospel: “For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me drink, I was a migrant, and you welcomed me, I was naked, and you clothed me, I was in prison, and you came to see me” (Mt 25:35).
The difficult situation we are living in due to the crisis generated by the Covid-19 pandemic has increased the number of people who require care, and the service is in danger of losing its original objective. Because of this, my collaboration in the project consists of talking to people, gathering information, and enrolling them in the assistance program of this “Center,” with a view to a more organized service. What struck me most in this contact with people is the diversity of backgrounds, many of them refugees, forced to leave their countries by violence or poverty. In a foreign country, without documents or many possibilities. Faced with this reality, this “Center”, like many others in Rome, is like an oasis, a blessing for these people. A place where they feel listened to and welcomed.
It is also a beneficial place for the volunteers. On one occasion, a lady volunteer shared with me: “the first time I came out of curiosity, I have always been rather skeptical about things in the Church, but here I am, trying to serve in any way I can; in fact, I think this is giving me back my faith.” People want to see signs, gestures, and actions that give credibility to our words.
Finally, with all the extraordinary work that is already being done, it seems to me that in the face of the growing demand for the project, it poses some specific challenges: to move from welfare to a project that gives continuity to the processes of: “welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating internally displaced persons.” Establish a better organization to provide a better service and train more volunteers to carry out more effective work.
Juan José Gutiérrez Quinteros cmf