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The Brothers at the Tuscolana station in Rome

15/01/2011: General House

Pietro was sitting on his suitcase placed flat on the ground, with three other bags full of all sorts of things near him. He had the salt and pepper beard typical of tramps. We approached him, three young women and I. It was 9 o’clock on the night of the Tuesday before Christmas 2010 inside the Tuscolana station in Rome. We asked him: - Where are you going to spend the night? - Here, in the station. - On the floor? But it is cold and the station doors are open. - I have a good blanket, and in this corner it isn’t so cold. I am used to it. - But don’t you have any family?- Yes, I have sisters, but it’s more than thirty years since I’ve seen them!Pietro was spontaneous and as if surprised that these strangers were concerned for him. His eyes were those of a child.Then one of the girls, the youngest, hardly out of adolescence, crouched down next to him, took one hand and rubbed it vigorously between her two hands, and bending closer, gave him a long kiss on his right jaws. The tramp smiled and received the kiss as normal. I admired this feminine genius for knowing how to create deeply human gestures and I thought of the woman who covered the feet of Jesus with kisses. This adolescent had come as close as possible to this solitary man, whose heart spoke of his hunger for affection.Every Tuesday evening, the community of the General House prepares a supper for the immigrants waiting outside the Tuscolana station. A group then takes the supper to about a hundred people, many young, coming from the countries of East Europe in search of work and fortune, and experiencing difficult times before finding an occupation. There are also elderly Italians to whom life has not been kind.On this Tuesday, we found a group of girls associated with the Community of Sant’Egidio. They came from the city of Pavia, 400 kilometres from Rome. Their visit to the Eternal City included an experience of meeting some poor people, so they had joined members of the Sant’Egidio Community and come to Tuscolana. That is where we found them. A gentleman who had brought abundant bowls of rice had come before us, so when we arrived with warm portions of pasta and coffee, we found it difficult to dispose of them. A good thirty little containers of pasta were left over. When the girls saw this, they took the box containing them and began to advertise among the refugees. They did so well that all the containers were distributed very quickly. They did not forget Pietro and this provided a new chance to speak to him.I admired this group of girls, come to Rome not just to see the historical monuments, the art treasures, but also to meet the poor and live their vocation as disciples of the Lord. I had felt a like emotion on Christmas day in the basilica of Saint Mary in Trastevere. Here the Community of Sant’Egidio has the custom at Christmas of inviting to dinner nearly 400 persons living in poverty. Next Christmas will be the 30th time the meal is held in the basilica. Many volunteers offered their services, among them three Brothers from the General House. We took out all the seats from the church, set up the tables, put out chairs, laid a place for each person, and during the meal carried them the different courses and served them. The atmosphere was one of joy and friendships quickly developed between the people at table and those serving them. The impression was of a large family and great humanity: Christ served and Christ serving, the suffering Church and the servant Church; all brothers and sisters in the Lord on Christmas Day. Two things characterise the service of the poor: bread, nourishment, sometimes clothing and blankets; but still more, the sharing of friendship, the exchange of words which allows a more human, deeper approach, the shaking of hands, the welcoming smile. We distributed coffee and a kind word, pasta and quick conversation. Bread and Word together: service complete, a true hand extended to our brothers in difficulty. To provide Bread and Word, one has to come close.________________* The Community of Sant’Egidio is a movement in the Church characterised by service of the poor; initiatives in favour of people in need are multiple: points for the distribution of food, clothing, reception houses, places to wash, doctors ready to tend to the poor, lawyers to defend their causes, places for learning Italian, letters written to condemned prisoners, drawings of handicapped children sold and the money sent to buy medicines in Africa, visiting prisoners, personal house to house contact with people in need… The Community of Sant’Egidio is formed above all by lay Christians, the founder Andrea Riccardi, being himself a layman, professor of History in a Roman university._________________H. Giovanni Bigotto

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