Written by Christopher Furmage
January 17, 2023
Seminary life consistently provides a variety of distinct opportunities. The seminary is located in Rome, which in itself provides opportunities I never imagined experiencing in my life. I also didn’t realise the different things I would be required to do as part of my seminary formation.
One of these unique experiences is the pastoral work that the seminarians are asked to take part in every year. There are various opportunities and groups to work with while we are here in Rome and this gives us a great opportunity for different pastoral experiences. In my first year I was asked to provide catechesis to primary school children at an American parish, which was an enriching experience, and a great insight into future activities as a priest.
Upon returning to Rome this year I was asked to be involved in a completely different kind of pastoral placement; volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity in one of their Roman houses located next door to the Vatican. I had a good idea what to expect as others from the seminary had been there in previous years. It was also quite a handy appointment as being right next to the Vatican means many more and frequent trips to St. Peters, and useful for nipping over to send Christmas cards via the Vatican post!
So who are the Missionaries of Charity? What do they do?
The Missionaries of Charity were originally founded by Mother Theresa of Calcutta with the mission to care for the poorest of the poor who were completely neglected by society. In the house where I help out, they provide shelter for homeless men and women, as well as a soup kitchen where a warm meal is always waiting.
The Missionaries have separate spaces for men and women and naturally I help in the part which is for the men. I turn up to help around 4:30pm every Monday and aid them in setting up all of the tables for the men, food preparation and cooking, and finally cleaning the entire refectory. When I was first asked to do this I was quite nervous as I thought that I would be heavily limited by my Italian language skills – thankfully the Sisters speak English and the men put up with my rusty Italian.
My first week was straight into the deep end; setting up all of the tables, peeling and chopping around 200 carrots, and shredding a kilogram of parmesan cheese. Then, before I knew it, we were asked to head into the refectory and pray with the men. I was then very quickly given an Italian Bible and asked to read the day’s Gospel. This was absolutely terrifying and I wondered what these people thought of me completely butchering the pronunciation of some of these words. But it worked out okay in the end. The only issue with this experience however, was demonstrating that I could speak a bit of Italian and so this quickly became one of my weekly activities. Once I was even asked to preach in Italian!
After a couple of weeks there was another helper who started to show up on the regular. Fr Mario, a priest from Italy and member of the Missionaries of Charity. Fr Mario brings a lot of humour into the kitchen and is very keen on getting me involved with the preaching and reading of the Gospel. This has been a great challenge and a lot of fun trying to improve my Italian.
Soon enough 6:30pm comes around, the men have left, and we begin to clean up of the entire place. All of the chairs are stacked, tables wiped, floors brushed and mopped. Before I know it, it’s all over and I’m heading for the bus which takes me back up to the Seminary on Via Cassia.
One thing I thought of when I was asked to take up this pastoral placement was how tired I would be as I spent all day in the city centre, after four hours of class and returning to the college for 7:30pm. But this couldn’t have been further from the truth.
I often find myself simply cherishing the small act of charity I was able to help with that day, as well as the difference these men who take time to speak to us and get to know us makes to my life. It really is an experience I look forward to every single week and very much enjoy. It has provided me with a lot of food for reflection as I journey back ‘up the road’. I often think of how I would prefer nothing other than to be doing this on a Monday afternoon.
I would encourage everyone to look up the Missionaries of Charity to find out more about them, and to support them in any way that you can – be it through prayer, volunteering, or a financial donation.