This article was originally published on www.orderofmalta.int.
His beret pulled down over his ears to protect him from the cold, but with a smile on his face, one of the numerous volunteers of the Order of Malta’s Gruppo Abc of the Rome Delegation, greets at the entrance the guests who will be offered “Christmas lunch” in the Basilica dei Santi Bonifacio e Alessio in Rome. “You start almost for fun but then you can’t stop,” says Giulio, who for eleven years has been volunteering in the soup kitchens, while he greets one of the first arrivals by name “I know her, she often also comes in the evening when we serve meals at the Termini and Tiburtina railway stations”.
Across the courtyard, some 80 young and not-so-young volunteers are busy inside the church. After having participated in the mass, they’re now starting to lay the twenty or so tables and placing the chairs, nine for each table, each of which boasts a sumptuous fruit centrepiece, while others are laying plastic sheets on the floor to protect the basilica’s magnificent mosaics.
The Christmas lunch will be served to almost 400 needy people in two shifts, one at midday and the other at 1 p.m. But the first guests are already starting to trickle in around 10 a.m., many with trollies, because they know they will receive gift parcels – with food, clothing and hygiene products – after the meal. Others are being collected by a shuttle bus going back and forth between the Aventine and the underground stations of Caracalla, Piramide and Ostiense. People get on, greet each other and make room for the last arrivals. They are mostly elderly men and women, some families, some youngsters, a few couples. Single women and foreigners are increasing, in particular those from eastern Europe. They all wait patiently for midday to arrive.
Meanwhile a spectacular Christmas cake from a local bakery, beautifully decorated with a chocolate nativity scene, is brought inside, while bread and plates with hors d’oeuvres are being placed on the tables. The procurator of the Grand Priory of Rome, Amedeo De Franchis, arrives, while from the pulpit an indefatigable Renato De Andreis continues to coordinate the operations. Finally, Don Luis Manuel Cuna Ramos takes the floor for a last prayer and says that “it is not so important to do big things as it is to do little things with great love: this makes the difference”. The first to enter is Francesca who has arrived alone with a shopping cart on a bus from the southern outskirts of Rome: “I was a caretaker, and I’m now a widow,” then she adds “I’m ninety.” A volunteer welcomes her, helps her off with her coat and sits her down. She smiles.
The Order of Malta’s Rome Delegation has been organizing Christmas and Easter lunches for fifteen years, also thanks to the contribution of benefactors and bakeries who offer raw materials at zero cost, not to mention the hospitality of the Somascan Fathers and the hard work of some communities of nuns who prepare the hot meals. The Rome lunch is just one of the hundreds of Christmas events organized by Order of Malta volunteers to offer assistance and solidarity to the disadvantaged worldwide.