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You are here:Home / Family News / NEF 2016 / Family News - May 14th, 2016 / Life of the Congregation (2)
May 12, 2016

Life of the Congregation (2)

The “Sacred Heart Showers”

Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Barracas

Couldn’t we install some showers for the homeless like the Pope has done?”A question as simple as that challenged the Betharramite community at Barracas, together with a few Associations and parishioners about the initiative taken by Pope Francis in the Vatican; this consisted simply of making available for the homeless somewhere where they could rest, be in the heat, eat and wash themselves. Above all it was a place where they could come face to face with a human being, a friendly hand and a willing ear to listen to their sufferings, their hopes, knowing that they would find someone to listen to them and give them support.

In the month of August 2015 someone came to see me after Mass saying “Couldn’t we install showers for the homeless just as the Pope has done at the Vatican?”That’s how it all began. We had a meeting with three Associations and we decided to launch the project. We were convinced by the decision of Pope Francis to open up near St Peter’s Square some showers and sanitary services for people in desperate situations. We judged this to be prophetical on the part of the Pope which deserved to be reproduced here in Buenos Aires. Without wanting to make stupid comparisons we think that there are more people sleeping in the streets in Buenos Aires than in Rome. Consequently it was urgent to reply quickly to this quest for help which day after day was unfortunately growing in the big cities.

All this was only possible thanks to community discernment.

I began by speaking about it at a community meeting, so that everyone knew all about the project and so that once it was agreed on all could bring their contribution. We agreed not to open a place to practice charity but to have something exactly for the benefit of the down and outs. These are people living on the streets in very unstable social conditions. By mid September a lorry load of sand arrived; at once began the demolition of the old parish toilets. The place was redesigned so as to make way for two showers, two wash basins and toilets and at the same time leaving room for the Parish.

True enough the “Sacred Heart Showers” are not the first and only sign of mercy in the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires nor in Betharram either.

This initiative is worthy of notice for two reasons: the first because it was the result of wanting to copy the action of Pope Francis in Rome; and secondly because it is not, strictly speaking, a pastoral action by the Church. In other words: the voluntary helpers, the people who come to us and those who will make use of the services are not all Christians. As a matter of fact the construction of the showers, wash basins and toilets was carried out by an enterprise whose owner is “our elder brother in the faith”. His father and he are Jews who worked gratuitously on the site in a Catholic Church. The atmosphere is the most important. We don’t ask for a baptismal certificate nor for a work permit; like that all can come here. A real loving heart is all that is needed.

The work was completed by the end of December and in the southern hemisphere this marks the beginning of the summer holidays. The showers were therefore officially blessed and inaugurated on 8th March 2016. A week later they were being used by the people living on the streets; they had access to a heated bathroom, clean clothes in good condition, afternoon tea on the Tuesday and breakfast on Saturday morning.

On the first day seven people came to have a closer look! Actually, we are helping about 45 people a day. There are many requests above all now that we are entering the winter season. We are working with about 15 volunteers and professionals: nurses, social workers and psychologists.

The bathrooms are often an excuse. What we really want is that those using the showers will always find a resting place, somewhere good for their health, both physical and spiritual; a place where there are people offering not only clothing and food but sharing the life experiences of their visitors. Consequently meal times are wonderful. Around the table the volunteers are mingled with the people of the streets. As Jesus taught us when for the first time he broke bread.

When you listen to each one’s tale they are their life story, the open wounds, their desperation. We volunteers listen; our task is to welcome, make a place for these people in our lives and accompany them on their journey. On its own the showers are only the first step. We don’t imagine that we are solving the problems of the people living on the streets. With them we try to make sense of mercy especially in this year. But we are trying to take a few more steps. The next step will consist in opening the workshops where those who wish may learn a trade and practise it; why not have a worker’s cooperative! A long route awaits us. For the final aim of the project of the “Sacred Heart Showers” is the reinsertion of people in socially difficult positions into the working community. What a dream!

Something which started as a bathroom imagines itself appealing to anyone in the wider community so as to become a way of humanisation and valorisation of life; and this in the face of a system which is constantly driving out certain individuals by exploiting the poor and encouraging marginalisation and slavery. This is why the “Shower Project” is carrying on with the help of willing souls, volunteers, members of associations, parishioners, and thanks to donations from many anonymous souls bringing gifts of items needed for health and hygiene, and clothing in good condition. A year ago the showers were but a dream. Today the dream consists in fighting the causes which bring some people to live on the streets, to come and help themselves to the showers, and to put in place work places which restore dignity to life and so that all together we may go forward.

Sebastián García scj

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Nef is the official bulletin of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Betharram.
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