The call to “not forget to show hospitality” is becoming louder every day because of the current plight of homeless people, vulnerable families and of women and men who are dealing with loneliness or abandonment for many different reasons.
Some TA groups have felt the need to respond in a concrete way to this call. Hospitality initiatives, partnership projects and plans for the transfer of buildings have been launched with institutional support. They are a small grain of sand to offer to those who have no roof over their heads. They provide a place of shelter and in many cases something more: a human reference point, a meeting point and links to rebuild their lives or to embark on a new path.
Accomodation for vulnerable families
For the past number of years, the TA in Spain has been accompanying and sheltering families in peripheral situations. This consists of providing housing, always in coordination with other organisations, in order to not only provide a roof over their heads, but also accompaniment and the possibility of integration according to their needs.
This initiative was launched in 2013 and so far six apartments have been transferred and agreements signed with Caritas or other organisations that are technically qualified to monitor the situation. In many cases, members of the TA join the group of volunteers who offer companionship, support, Spanish classes or cultural activities.
Bilbao, Gorliz (Vizcaya), Santander, Alicante, Málaga and Seville are the cities where these apartments are located. They accommodate migrant women with children, women in reintegration after having been in prison, immigrant women in very vulnerable circumstances due to abuse or having minors in their care, or a refugee family that has fled political and police violence in their country. Four of these apartments have agreements with local Caritas agencies and the other two with similar associations with which regular and renewable collaboration agreements are made.
In addition, the TA in Andalusia is part of a network giving support and shelter to young homeless migrants or those formerly in care. The network comprises solidarity groups and organisations. Casa Mambré in Cordoba and Casa Buena Madre in Jaén were created by this network.
These TA initiatives in Spain accept volunteers and also financial contributions to support their activities.
In Rome, three members of the Association decided to open their home to one or two migrant or refugee girls. This was in response to the priorities of the TA Assemblies and to the invitations of the Gospel being emphasised by the Pope.
They contacted their parish who directed them to the diocesan Caritas. Thus began an experience that has now completed its first year. It was on 2 February 2020 when the pandemic restrictions were soon to begin, that Maria Gabriela, a young woman from Venezuela who had fled the country because of threats, knocked on the door of this apartment where Pilar, Enza and Giuseppina offered space and a welcome while being ready for surprises... After she had been there for a short while, the young woman nervously announced that she was pregnant and asked if she would be allowed to stay anyway.
Not only that, they accompanied Maria Gabriela through her pregnancy and spent the months of lockdown together, even though Enza, a doctor, had to continue going out to do her work and face the risk of COVID-19. In August, Ada Sofia was born and is now part of everyone's life.
They were asked to relate their experience in the diocesan Caritas of Rome newsletter, and they expressed it like this: Ci siamo lasciate sorprendere dal Signore! (We let ourselves be surprised by the Lord).
“Our hearts are ready to give thanks for life. Our faith has been fine-tuned in love to say to the Lord with joy: here we are, help us to carry out with simplicity what you are asking of us now. Our life will change again, we do not know how or when, but when a child makes us 'widen our tent', we can only welcome this grace” they added.
“The common thread throughout this time has been the normality of life in a time of absolute abnormality enriched by that spark of joy that makes everything easier. In short, we can say that we have grown together, no longer the four of us but the five of us”, they concluded.
When Laura Badaracchi, a journalist for the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire, heard about this experience through the newsletter, she wanted to tell the story in more detail, and so the coverage of this gesture was amplified in the supplement Famiglia e vita of 31 January.
Maria Gabriela, the young woman who was granted political asylum in 2018, tells of her experience of finding a home and how, after having gone through tough circumstances and becoming pregnant and homeless, she found herself being accompanied and feeling serene through difficult times.
Shelter from the cold
Hospitality is also central to the agreement that the TA signed on 16 January with Caritas Madrid to enable a hostel on the premises of Santa María de Los Negrales to be used as accommodation for the homeless.
This was a request made in response to a snowstorm and the lack of accommodation for homeless people in the Sierra area of Madrid. Caritas, in contact with town councils such as Collado Villalba and Alpedrete, and the respective parishes, designed a contingency plan in which the TA makes the hostel facilities available for overnight stays and breakfasts, at least until the end of April. Half of the people they take in are Spanish nationals.
Three Caritas officers take turns each night to accompany the group numbering no more than sixteen people due to the security norms imposed by the pandemic. During the day these people have at their disposal the Hogar Santa Rita which the Augustinian Fathers opened in the area last October also in partnership with Caritas. The Parish in Collado Villalba offers them the meals.
News of this Caritas work has spread to the digital newspapers of the towns in the Sierra Madrileña and also to social networks.
In the newspaper Aquí la Sierra, Inés Gil Antuño, a Caritas officer in Collado Villalba, recalls how the death of Alfonso, a homeless person with whom they worked in the area, accelerated the process of finding places for people to stay at least during the cold snap and the worst months.
These experiences are little ‘post-it’ reminders not to forget hospitality. Of course, offering hospitality is not − and perhaps should not − always be a simple, spontaneous gesture like giving a drink to the thirsty. It has to go through formalities and the signing of agreements. We may not be extending a welcome to real angels, but hospitality surely opens us up to new life.
TA Translators Team.
R. Marín. TA Info.