The Rev. Austin Rios

Our ministry to refugees in Rome

[St. Paul's Rome] Every day, hundreds of men and boys make their way to our church, descending the steps that lead into the crypt, and looking for answers and assistance in the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center. Once inside, guests may receive a nutritious breakfast, have a chance to rest in a safe place, access a supply closet with clothing items and basic necessities, and play foosball, ping pong, or chess. Many guests take advantage of services and programs like language classes (Italian, French, and English), navigation assistance (where an experienced refugee guest helps new arrivals “navigate” the various immigration, medical and legal appointments required for integration, or access the services of psychotherapists, who help guests cope with what has often been a chaotic and traumatic journey between their countries of origin and Rome. We receive daily anywhere from 100-225 guests in the JNRC, depending on the season. A growing number of dedicated volunteers give of their time and talent to help ease the burdens that accompany each guest.

What if you received a gift, and the only way you could truly enjoy it was to give it away? This week I have been reflecting on the importance of exchanging gifts within the Church and greater world. In ecclesiastical circles, the term "exchange of gifts" hearkens back to Unitatis Redintegratio, the Second Vatican Council’s decree on Ecumenism, and is featured in a rereading of that decree and its implications 40 years later by then President of the PCPCU, Cardinal Walter Kaspar. These two documents represent formal and high-level institutional attempts at approaching the oneness Jesus prayed for in John (John 17:20), and Receptive Ecumenismexpands and develops many of the principles found within them.

The brochure outlining the various degree programs of the seminary I attended in Austin, TX had these words highlighted on its front cover…“How are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?” Those words served as a background to our priestly formation experience, and in the years since I’ve graduated, they have taken on further meaning for me. Arriving as part of Paul’s climactic argument in his dense, and famous letter to the Romans, the words serve to direct Paul’s hearers and readers toward the necessity of spreading the good news of Jesus Christ, widely and persistently…as a sower scatters seed.

Yesterday I went for an afternoon run. Not only is the exercise good for my body and mind, but it is also a chance to connect to the unique features of the city. My “go-to” run usually involves a jog down Via Nazionale which then puts me at the edge of the architectural relics of Rome. Trajan’s column gives way to Piazza Venezia, and its dominating Vittoriano monument. A quick stair sprint up the steps of the Campidoglio has me thinking of Marcus Aurelius and Michelangelo...


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