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140 Years Sheltering the Homeless- St.John of God Night Shelter, Marseilles

For the St. John of God CHRS Foundation 24th  December began like any other day of the year by welcoming the homeless who gathered outside the gates in the early  afternoon to ensure having a safe place for the night. But in this Christmas Eve, on the occasion of Christmas and the 140th anniversary of the opening  of the centre, staff were preparing to host a wonderful meal and entertainment for those who had gathered.

 The night shelter reception staff,  under the leadership of  director, George Kammerlocher had decorated the dining room with garlands and Christmas wreaths  and had  sweets  and gifts for every person staying the night. Meanwhile  the cooks were busy providing a meal fit foar Christmas Eve. Thirty volunteers, married, single, young and old,  joined the team of employees and Brothersto help serve the meal. Some had arrived at Forbin Street "by chance" after looking for a place "where a Christmas is celebrated differently" , others were attracted by the testimony of friends who come faithfully every year to help  serve meals to the homeless people.   At the end of the evening, everyone was more than happy with the experience. "Christmas is the feast of hope par excellence, and it seemed important to give a little to those who have none or very little" , said one of the volunteers, "but ultimately, I seem to have received as much as I tried to give"

Entertainment and dancing followed the meal as well as an opportunity for people to talk together, share their experiences and to create links.  Some of the volunteers said that this celebration together  « gave them an opportunity to engage with those who otherwise they might pass by on the street. ». Those who were homeless also enjoyed the evening and their smiles and thanks at the end of the evening said a lot.  Other volunteers, , also attended part of the evening,  among them, Bishop Georges Pontier, Archbishop of Marseille. This is the seventh consecutive year since his arrival in the diocese in 2005, that he has put on an apron to help serve the Christmas dinner.  He has also , each year, since he started,  introduced the evening with a time of prayer and the reading of the Gospel of Christmas. Also present on this occasion of the anniversary were the Minister,  Marie-Arlette Carlotti, the Senator-Mayor of Marseille,  Jean-Claude Gaudin -  who has come  for the past  48 years, and Senator Marie Lajus, prefect delegate for equality of opportunity.

. "Their presence here shows the esteem in which this centre is held " , said Brother Fortunatus in his address,  "It is our duty to accommodate the other, especially if they are in need, adding that " « We must step outside our comfort zone and help our brothers and sisters.  addressing directly  the 283  homeless peoplewho were there,  he said, « While Christmas is a time of hope and joy,  life for some of you can seem hopeless and joyless " , however Christmas is the outstretched hand of God to those  who have lost confidence in society, in people,  so you should feel at home here and spend Christmas in the deepest respect for your dignity as children loved by God "

 The CHRS in Forbin Street, Marseille, was founded in 1872 by François Massabo, who on a cold Christmas Eve in Marseille gave food and shelter to three poor men, then ten, then a hundred and by the end of the first year more than three hundred.  He founded the «Night Shelterl «  in Marseille, the first of its kind in Europe, which he entrusted to the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God in 1897.  Nowadays the St. John of God CHRS has offers emergency accommodation with capacity for 224 people.


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