Homeless gather in Roman basilica to pray for those who died on the streets

Rome, Italy, Feb 3, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Hundreds of homeless people and volunteers prayed together in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere Sunday to honor those who have died on Rome’s streets.

A lit candle was placed before an icon of the merciful Christ for each of the deceased as their names were read aloud in the basilica.

The Catholic community of Sant’Egidio organized the memorial and a lunch reception for all of the participants.

Six homeless people have died in Rome this winter, according to the Catholic movement, who decorated a side altar in the basilica dedicated to their memory. The community also prayed by name for other homeless people who have died in recent years.

The Sant’Egidio community was first inspired to organize the memorial by the story of Modesta Valenti, a woman who died in front of Rome’s Termini train station on Jan. 31, 1983 after an ambulance refused to take her to the hospital because she had lice.

Each following year, the Catholic lay movement has gathered to pray near the anniversary of Valenti’s death for those who have died on the streets.

There are an estimated 8,000 homeless people living in Rome about half of whom are cared for in shelters run by charities, according to La Repubblica.

Throughout the year, Sant’Egidio volunteers aid Rome’s homeless with a meal delivery program, overnight shelters, and medical clinics.

In November, Pope Francis opened a 4-story homeless shelter right off of the St. Peter’s Square colonnade. The homeless shelter, staffed by the Sant’Egidio community, has two floors of dormitories that can sleep 50 men and women, a kitchen to provide breakfast and dinner, and a recreation area for fellowship, educational programs, and psychological counseling.

Sant’Egidio has also organized similar memorials for the homeless in at least 5 other cities around Italy, including Genoa and Turin.

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