I came to Poverello on the 23rd of April, for two weeks; my main purpose was to spend time with one of volunteers, Andy, but I did not expect that I would receive what I've received – and I've received a lot. This time was more than precious. When I asked before what my tasks would be there, I was told that we mostly take care of cleaning, serving and preparing the prayers – especially second thing seemed to be especially hard to do with my lack of French. It took a time to break the ice – even those volunteers and people welcomed in Poverello, who speak English, were not opening themselves quickly. Despite my non existing French I was sent to serve at the bar. It was a mission, I have to say! But day by day, smile by smile and greeting by greeting, I was given more and more courage and friendship from the guests of Poverello. I could see it in very simple things – in the few words exchanged between us, in few funny melodies sang together in the corridor and in a warm „Bonne journee!” when they were leaving.
On Wednesdays we were helping sister Aline in the house on Rue de Tanniers – the second building where 21 men live. I came there twice and I was twice surprised – there was a couple of other volunteers who were above 60-70 years, but they were all full of joy, willing to help and love to each other. Coffee break was more of a feast of friendship than an ordinary sitting at the table – moments full of jokes, laughing and pure care. They were putting a lot of effort and engagement in what they were doing and it was very important for them to give themselves and simply to feel needed. That atmosphere, created by them, made me really want to work there. It was a very touching experience for me to attend Sunday Eucharist; it was celebrated by a Franciscan father in Poverello’s canteen. People were sitting at the tables and the songs were very simple, like the whole liturgy. It convinced me that Jesus truly came to everyone, to every single human being on the Earth – it doesn’t matter if poor or rich, oriented in liturgy or not, homeless or totally the opposite. We are loved by Him without conditions.
I realize that i haven't seen the depths of Poverello. I've only been here two months, but I am learning daily. I feel small, lost, and free. It depends on the day. But most days it's small. But i feel it in the way that tells you that humanity is huge and God is bigger and life is awesome.
It seems people come to Poverello for many reasons. Some come as a volunteer or as a client for the comfort of company or because there's nothing else to do. Some people came long ago because it seemed like the right thing, and now it's just what they do. There is not another way.
My first few weeks here were a bit difficult. It was nothing too bad, just a loneliness and the feeling of wondering through some kind of mist. Nothing seemed clear. I saw a bunch of people sitting around and letting the old give them food. Everyone seemed far from wanting help. I felt pointless and I found the atmosphere depressing. My presence was hard (and continues to be) for some of the other volunteers to understand. They thought maybe I was taking an aimless gap year and i'd be gone the moment i found something more entertaining. The people here didn't know how to be present with me or open a gap for me to stand in, because someone needs to stand in that gap tomorrow. They couldn't know if i'd be there or not. I don't speak French or Dutch which at times was frustrating for the people around me (I'm currently learning and a lot of people are really patient with me). It's a difficult place for a young person to enter, but i think it's a good place for a young person to be.
There are mysteries here. Poverello has Christian origins and at it's core, remains so.
But, most of the people around here don't think of Christ, at least in a way we can see or understand. But i want to ask, is it still looking for the gospel if that's not what you call it? Is it the gospel when you aren't aware of the life of Christ?
If where there is love there is God, does that mean we find Him when there is compassion? Is He there when someone gives love, regardless of what's on the surface? I'm not quite comfortable saying this, but it's something I want to consider. In a world filled with questions about the motivation of religion, it's usefulness or propensity toward destruction, is it in the absence of first world glories that we find God? Is it here among these people, who may think they have no use for god and his religions that we find His way?
I am in Poverello, discovering my own poverty, that the poverty of my neighbor is my poverty also, and that the riches of the poor might be able make up for my weaknesses. I feel in some way i am discovering the mysteries of life. I must wait for them. They are not obvious for me. I first see heavy curtains of sorrow or absence of…i don't know. There is a haze. I wait as my eyes start to focus beyond it. Where there are people, there are people and purposes made by God, yeah?
I think so.
Many who come here to serve need the purpose it gives them. Many of those who are served come because they are not seen on the street, but somehow society still expects much of them. Here they are seen and able to just be. Together somehow, we are meeting each other's weaknesses. We are in communion with others and ourselves in a way i'm not sure I ever would have been able to see before Poverello was in my life. Maybe I'm imagining it.
I now see Poverello as the ugly duckling...a secret swan.
It looks and sounds weird because we're ducks. It doesn't walk like a duck. It doesn't fit inside duck understanding. But if you wait for it, you can see the rejected or different thriving and being beautiful, just being what it is. And together, you can find ways to be more than ducks. We could bob around like swans together.
Among the homeless or seemingly purposeless where is life? It is here and sometimes i get to see it.
Would you like to see with me?
Be patient. You've got to wait for it.
I discovered in Poverello a new kind of family which welcomes everybody with a sincere kindness. I was impressed by the way things work in this place, because somehow, everybody finds a way to give his best for a few hours a day. In the midst of misery and situations of great vulnerability you can see the beauty and the essence of humans.
The questions and the urge to do something (helping those who are welcomed there) are fulfilled through very small and simple actions (serving the others). Through this, I got to understand and be aware of different realities and situations people are facing. The atmosphere created in Poverello is surrounded by a very basic and human sense of love and care, which can be discovered and cultivated by each of us in this place.
The work, the possibility to have an active prayer life, the sharing and learning from others and being part of a community, have called me back to Poverello since first time I had been there.