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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Pope's New Home---with the Daughters of Charity

Pope Francis has chosen to live with the Daughters of Charity at St. Martha House on the Vatican property.   The virtues which the Daughters of Charity strive to live by are humility, simplicity and charity.  So, I must admit despite this I am feeling proud of my sisters, but this is different than being pride-ful!  Right?

The Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul have been at St. Martha House (Casa Santa Marta/Domus Sanctae Marthae) since 1884---yes 1884.  That was not a typo!  I was very curious about how we ended up in this ministry based on our charism of serving Christ in those living in poverty.  So this is what I found out...

Pope Leo XIII requested that the Daughters of Charity come to care for the sick during the cholera epidemic.  Since the epidemic never reached the city of Rome the Vatican Hospital remained empty.

In 1887, on his jubilee as a priest, Pope Leo XIII gave the hospital to be used as a place of hospitality for pilgrims of more modest incomes.  The pilgrims at that time could stay for free.  It was called "Santa Marta Hospice".  I think its purpose is more clear if we refer to it as a free hostel. The Daughters of Charity do have another place outside the Vatican walls where pilgrims and others can rent a room and eat http://casamariaimmacolata.com/homepageeng.htm.

In modern times, St. Martha's House still received pilgrims for a low price.  The Vatican also requested other services of the Daughters of Charity and the "house" was enlarged.  Refugee ambassadors were received during World War II when they could not remain in Rome.  The house has also welcomed Prelates working at the Secretariat of State, the Sisters have worked in the Vatican Dispensary (clinic), served in the dining rooms for the Vatican workers and the Vatican guard who have low incomes.  There had also been a social service center attached to the house. 
The source for the history of the Daughters of Charity at St. Martha's House is the 1991 Echoes of the Company-an international journal for Daughters of Charity.

So, what goes on now at St. Martha's House (#57 on the map)?  Sr. Ann Mary, my personal research assistant on this project, worked in Rome for a number of years.  She got the scoop and photo for me on the Daughters of Charity working at St. Martha's House and referred me to the very helpful articles.

As you can see in the photo, there are 8 Daughters of Charity presently at St. Martha's House.  Two are from India, 2 from Slovakia and 4 from Italy.  One of the Italian Sisters is responsible for the dispensary.  Pope Benedict XVI visited the clinic in 2005 and the Catholic News article described it as "a maternal and pediatric clinic staffed by volunteers that serves mainly immigrants"  (http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0507410.htm).  The Indian Sisters are presently studying Italian.  The tallest Sister is from Slovakia and will be returning home soon after 9 years serving at St. Martha's.  The other DCs help in the kitchen, laundry, bedrooms, dining room and chapel (along with a staff of lay people).  St. Martha's House is no longer a place for pilgrims.  It is used for hospitality for visiting bishops and cardinals (maybe some priests too on Vatican business)---and now the home of the Pope Francis!

According to Sr. Ann Mary's source, at daily Mass, the pope gives a brief homily "which is very practical and goes right to the heart."  On the feast of the Annunciation, which this year was April 8th, we renew our annual vows.  "Google Alerts" sent me the link to Pope Francis from Monday.  It mentioned that the Daughters of Charity renewed their vows at the Mass.  So in addition to not being humble by sharing about the pope living at St. Martha's with the DCs, now I have to add being jealous that they renewed their annual vows with Pope Francis! Seriously though, renewing our annual vows is always a powerful experience--the chance to say that total yes all over again.

Sister Evelyne Franc, our international superior, wrote us a pre-newal of vows letter.  There is a quote from it that a think would be good to wrap this post up:
"Let us ask ourselves if we evangelize by our lives and our service or if instead we serve those who are poor in a rush, like busy, agitated "Marthas," victims of activism that scatters and leads to a superficial life.  We cannot forget that the driving force of service, its soul, is prayer life, the interior life." February 2, 2013 Circular Letter of Sr. Evelyne Franc

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