200 POOR ARE JOHN PAUL II'S GUESTS OF HONOR
Homeless Men and Women Dine with the Pope
VATICAN CITY, (ZENIT.org).- It was a simple feast. Today, John Paul II invited 200 poor
and homeless to dinner, as well as volunteers who assist them in the city of Rome.
Men and women with painful histories, donned their best clothes, and came to the Vatican this
morning to celebrate their special Jubilee. Not all were Catholics. They had received a
personalized invitation from the Pope himself, given to them by the organizations that assist them,
including the St. Egidio Community, Caritas-Rome, and "Donum Mariae" Home, established by
Mother Teresa of Calcutta in the Vatican itself.
A smiling John Paul II welcomed his guests with affection shortly after 1:30 p.m. "I wanted to
meet you and share my table with you to tell you that you are in the Pope's heart. I embrace
each one of you with great affection, friends whom I so love. Although I cannot spend much
time with you, I assure you that I follow you daily with prayer and affection."
Many who applauded the Pontiff are well-known by those who work or live near the Vatican.
The mild climate of the Eternal City and the great number of Catholic associations helping the
homeless have motivated many Italians and people from northern Europe in desperate situations
to install themselves in the streets of Rome.
One of the guests was from the United States. Following a profound personal crisis, he has
decided to spend his life in a permanent pilgrimage in Rome, where he arrived after visiting
Two of the diners were young women from Naples. They are between 30-40 years old and
spend every night in a little square near St. Peter's. When it is very cold, they are
accommodated by the Missionaries of Charity in "Donum Mariae" Home. They maintain both
their dignity and youthful beauty. However, for the volunteers assisting them, it is difficult to
understand how they have both ended on the streets.
"In looking at you one by one, I think of all the persons in Rome as well as around the world,
who are living in a time of trial and difficulty. I should like to come close to each one to say: 'Do
not feel alone, because God loves you.' The Pope loves you very much, dear brothers and
sisters and, together with him, the whole Church opens her arms wide in welcome and
With this initiative, the Holy Father wished to highlight charity during this Jubilee, and confirm the
Church's preferential option for the poor and the marginalized.
The papal guests sat at tables for 13, including 10 poor, a Cardinal, bishop, or other Church
official, and two volunteer assistants.
The Pope also wanted this day to reflect the meaning of the priesthood as service, not power.
Therefore, those who waited on the tables were students of the Seminary of Rome. The dinner
was enlivened by the rhythm of several continents, especially Latin American and Italian music,
played by the orchestra of the Legionaries of Christ.
A few hours before the dinner, many of the Holy Father's guests gathered in St. Peter's Basilica
to cross the threshold of the Holy Door as a sign of conversion, and to pray at the tomb of the
Prince of the Apostles.
The menu for the occasion was typically Italian: fresh pasta with cheese and spinach, veal with
roast potatoes, mozzarella cheese and salad, pastry and fruit salad with ice cream.
At the end of the dinner the poor gave the Pope symbolic gifts. In turn, he greeted each his two
hundred guests one by one and presented them with a gift of his own. The poor will also be
given a photo of their personal encounter with the Pope.
Carlo Santoro of the St. Egidio Community, one of the organizers of the event, recalled that "this
isn't the first time the Pope organized an event of this kind: in the past he has invited poor people
to the Vatican. This occasion was extra special, however, as it is part of the Jubilee celebrations
of the year 2000. The idea was suggested both by the volunteers who work with the homeless
as well as the Holy Father himself, who wanted to meet with the poor one day to dine with
One of the happiest persons today was Fr. Guerino Di Tora, director of Caritas-Rome. "It has
been a great joy to be able to focus attention during the Jubilee on the reality of the homeless, of
those who live in desperate situations. The Jubilee arose out of concern for humanity, in the spirit
of reconciliation, and the re-discovery of every person. The Pope's gesture of sitting at the same
table with these persons is not just meaningful for him and the Church, but for the whole world.
He himself has encouraged families to invite a poor person on New Year's Eve. Eating together
is an expression of full communion, and not only a moment of passing attention."