It’s not often that you see people sleeping in a church. In fact, most houses of worship discourage it altogether.
But on a layover in Denver, Father Louis Vitale found himself sitting in a chapel, tired and barely able to keep his eyes open. While a policy requested that worshippers sit up in the pews and attend the services, not lie down, it was 2 a.m. and no one else was there, so he “asked Jesus, do you really mind if I lie down on the bench here and get a little sleep? I need it.” That’s when the idea for The Gubbio Project was born.
The father knew that his congregation, St. Boniface in San Francisco, had the same rule, but after that short discussion, he says, “Well, Jesus gave me permission to sleep in the church, how can I deny it to other people who really belong to this parish here? So we did.”
Partnering with Shelly Roder, the two created The Gubbio Project and gave hundreds of local homeless people a safe place to rest.
The project is named after an Italian town where St. Francis supposedly brokered a peace agreement between terrified townsfolk and a wolf. His success showed that communication is the key to finding common ground.
Along those same lines, the organization’s founders and countless volunteers believe that getting the housed and unhoused residents on a common ground leads to a more caring society and ultimately, a stronger community.
Each weekday, more than 300 homeless individuals seek shelter at St. Boniface and St. John’s the Evangelist. No intake forms or sign-in sheets have to be filled out and no questions are asked. It’s a safe haven where the homeless can come for food, blankets, sleep, and even massages, thanks to a partnership with a local massage institute.
While some churches have similar programs, what makes The Gubbio Project different is that the homeless aren’t hidden away in a large room at the back. The sanctuary takes up the back 2/3 of the church, while daily services are held in the front 1/3.
That configuration sends a strong message to those who seek refuge.
They are in essence part of the community, not to be kicked out when those with homes come in to worship. It also sends a message to those attending mass — the community includes the tired, the poor, those with mental health issues and those who are wet, cold and dirty.
In addition to food, blankets, and massages, the program provides socks, hygiene kits, chaplaincy services, and referrals to outside services. Find out more about The Gubbio Project here.
It’s wonderful that organizations like this exist to care for people who are down on their luck, and it must be such a source of comfort for them to know they can come here for help. Share to help spread the word about this compassionate endeavor.