During a six-day trip to the Eternal City, Clarissa Salazar, who until recently lived on the streets in the U.S., said the visit has made a lasting impact on her, and is something for which she is grateful.
“It changed my life in a way I can't describe,” Salazar said of the pilgrimage, adding that “I came on this trip as an invitation because I was homeless for a long time and finally got my life together.”
Arranged through Denver Homeless Ministries, an organization committed to providing awareness of homeless persons in the community of Denver and providing opportunities to serve them as both equals and friends, the Roman pilgrimage took place March 24 – 29, and consisted of Salazar; trip organizer Tanya Cangelosi; and a Ruthenian priest of the Eparchy of Holy Protection of Mary of Phoenix.
When in Rome, Salazar continued in her March 31 interview with CNA, it was obvious that it was “a holy place where Christ is important,” adding that it was significant for her to know that she “was in a different country where homelessness does exist.”
In a brief description of her life given on DHM’s online page for the pilgrimage, Salazar, whose street name is “Glitterbear,” revealed that her mother had been “a verbal abusive drunk,” and that having been physically abused from the age of 2 until she was 4, she was removed from her home.
A few years later Salazar explained that she was placed back with her mother to finish school, but that immediately after completing high school she got into a relationship that landed her “on the streets.”
Finally breaking up with the man after being “abused physically, verbally, mentally and emotionally” for thirteen years, she sent the “two beautiful children” she had with him to live in the care of her mother, and had been living “on the streets since.”
Cangelosi, who originally came up with the idea to take the homeless to Rome and was in charge of coordinating the details of the trip for DHM, explained to CNA in a March 31 interview that she is already beginning to see the fruits of the trip for Salazar.
“In order for Clarissa to go, she had to be released from probation,” Cangelosi noted, explaining that after speaking to her probation officer in August and seeing the efforts that Salazar had been making, the officer expressed that “this was the most fantastic idea she had ever heard of and believed Glitterbear was the perfect candidate.”
Cangelosi recalled that Salazar’s probation officer decided to end her probation early so that there would be “no paper” on her way back through customs, and lauded the fact that she got housing about a month before the pilgrimage took place, and upon her return “will receive her two children back to now begin living as a family.”
“I believe this experience will help her teach her children to never give up and to reach for the moon because the World and opportunities are so much bigger than the streets or their own backyard!”
Recounting how the idea of taking homeless on pilgrimage to Rome had originally come to her, Cangelosi noted that she had dreamt of doing it, and upon waking up stated “Lord if this is from You, forget it, pick someone else!!!”
However when the idea didn’t go away, but instead became more persistent, Cangelosi said that she finally woke up one morning “with an excitement I couldn't contain and said out loud ‘I'm going to Rome and taking homeless with me!’”
“I believe through much prayer and talking with the Lord that he had a plan and I wanted to do whatever he asked and let him be the guide. That was my peace throughout the process.”
This trip “was to show homeless something so fantastic, so far out of their realm or thoughts that it would forever change their lives.”
Going on this pilgrimage, Cangelosi continued, gave many “who thought their lot in life was the streets of poverty a hope that there is always something bigger than their small piece of the world.”
After having completed the pilgrimage this year, Cangelosi explained that although she is not eager to repeat the process of sorting through the “many issues” that come with clearing the records of homeless persons who want to go, she is willing to do the trip again “because of the experience Glitterbear received,” as well as the fun the group had while touring around the city.
“Getting to know Glitterbear helps us understand the dreams and desires of those who have lived very hard lives to get to this place in their lives.”
Highlighting a few of her favorite parts of the trip, Salazar expressed that she particularly enjoyed “viewing and walking through all the ancient buildings” of Rome, and that being able to see Pope Francis during one of his weekly general audiences was “very different,” but “felt amazing!”
When asked whether she would recommend the trip to others in her situation, Salazar replied that “yes, I most definitely would.”