The Church of the Table

Here, we discover an example of how a simple act of kindness to one stranger can develop into a self-sustaining, diverse and life-fulfilling community for the poor and lonely. Hosted by the Church but run by the very people that benefit from it, Fr. Graziano’s reflection on his time setting up the Church of the Table offers a fascinating insight into the role that churches can play in fostering a transformational sense of belonging and meaning.

Some years ago, at my home, the Church of the Table began.  At the time I was a parish priest and every day homeless people and migrants in need came knocking at my door asking for some money. I asked myself how could I best help them?

I was convinced that to give them money was a trap, because it would kill the gratuity in our relationship and make it little more than a transactional arrangement.  It also wouldn’t solve the real problems of the people.

Our parish was already increasing its social activities, so I decided to invite these people inside and have a chat together, to share stories and so I could better understand their needs. One day, lunchtime arrived and I decided to share a meal with the guests that day: we started to have lunch and this continued over the following days. Since 2010, every day, anybody who wishes to join for lunch can knock at our door.

“The Church, as desired by Jesus, is the home of hospitality” (Pope Francis, 12 July 2015)

We say it is a “family table”, not a canteen: people who come are considered friends and guests, not customers or users. In fact, everyone is asked to help in some task, like in every family. They feel useful and wanted, especially when they have been excluded for a long time from a normal social life.

I think that joining together over food around the same table has a healing power for everyone: lonely people find relations and company, suffering ones find consolation, angry ones find mercy and peace. Jesus did it many times. The real hunger of many people concerns love rather than food.

Thanks to my guests I also changed a lot: they’ve been for me teachers of life and catechists. We often had spontaneous conversations about deep and meaningful topics, like loyalty, hospitality, faith, justice…

I have since moved to serve as a missionary priest in Manila, in the Philippines. The Church of the Table continues in Italy, in a larger place, thanks to my association, “Spei Lumen”, and various volunteers: many of them are, in fact, Filipino migrants. Every day, ten to twenty homeless and marginalised people, both men and women, from different nations, Muslims and Christians, gather at the “Church of the Table” to join together not only for a meal, but their lives and their hopes.

Don Graziano Gavioli

Don Graziano Gavioli is an Italian Catholic priest based in Manila. Further details about his work in Italy and the Philippines can be found on his blog here, and he can be contacted at NB. the meaning of ‘gratuity’ here translates into English as ‘giving and receiving gifts’ – for more on this click here.

To watch a video of Fr Graziano and his friends having lunch, click here.