.- Visiting a homeless shelter today in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI recalled the heart of the Christmas message which is that, “God came among us because He loves us.” The shelter, which was founded in 1983 is run by Rome’s branch of the Catholic charity Caritas.
The Holy Father was accompanied on his trip - his first trip outside the Vatican of 2007 - by Cardinal Camillo Ruini, vicar general for the diocese of Rome, Bishop Ernesto Mandara, auxiliary of Rome for the central area, and Msgr. Guerino Di Tora, director of Caritas.
The Pope visited the welcome center, the canteen and a nativity scene built by the Caritas volunteers and the people who use the shelter. He also greeted young people from the "Monti-Esquilino" youth center, which is based in the same building.
At the entrance to the canteen, the Pope paused to bless a plaque commemorating John Paul II's visit there on December 20, 1992. A phrase Pope John Paul pronounced on that occasion - "suffering man concerns us" - is now inscribed on the plaque.
Afterwards, in the courtyard attached to the canteen, the Pope met with the Caritas volunteers and the people who use the shelter.
"In this shelter, which can in some way be considered as the symbol of Roman Caritas" he said in his address to them, "it is possible to touch the presence of Christ in our brothers and sisters who are hungry, and in those who give them to eat. Here we can experience how, when we love our fellows, we know God better. In the manger of Bethlehem, He showed Himself to us in the poverty of a helpless newborn child. The Christmas message is simple: God came among us because He loves us. God is love, not a sentimental love but a love that became a total giving of self, even unto the sacrifice on the cross."
Benedict XVI also recalled how the word Bethlehem means "house of bread.” “Jesus - the bread from heaven, the living bread - in some way shows Himself every day in this shelter, where the aim is not just to give people to eat, but to serve them without distinction of race, religion or culture," the Pope added.
"A call addressed to everyone arises from the manger of Bethlehem, from each nativity scene: Jesus loves us and He teaches us to love. The directors, the volunteers and all those who frequent this shelter can experience the beauty of this love. They can feel the profundity of the joy that it brings, a joy most certainly different from the one proclaimed by publicity and advertising."
The Pope concluded his talk by calling upon the Lord "to continue to protect the people who, in Roman Caritas, undertake such precious work in promoting solidarity, both here and elsewhere in the city. May the Holy Spirit animate the hearts of the directors, workers and volunteers that they may serve with ever more committed dedication, drawing inspiration from authentic Christian love, which the saints of charity summarized in the motto: 'the good done well'."
After his address, the Pope led the crowd in prayer. He was then given an ID card for the shelter, an apron of the kind worn by the volunteers, a blanket, and an album with drawings by children living in a shelter for mothers in difficulties. For his part, the Holy Father donated 10,000 blankets and 2,000 overcoats for distribution to the homeless people whom the Caritas volunteers meet every night in the streets of the capital.
The shelter, which was the first structure for homeless people to be established in Rome, has welcomed thousands of people, both Italians and non-Italians, and distributed more than nine million meals over the last 23 years.