During coronavirus, German cardinal opens seminary to feed homeless

CNA Staff, Mar 30, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne has opened the archdiocesan seminary to feed and shelter the homeless during the coronavirus pandemic. The seminary had been partly emptied due to renovation works and students were sent home and classes suspended in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The cardinal first announced the project on Sunday, March 29. “I have decided to open up our seminary for the homeless while our seminarians are gone due to the corona restriction,” Woelki said on Sunday.

“We want to offer warm meals and access to restrooms and showers to those who have nobody to turn to these days in Cologne.”

The seminary opened its ministry to the homeless on Monday, offering meals in a dining hall with 20 individual tables, so that those coming in could be served while still adhering to social distancing guidelines.

CNA Deutsch, Catholic News Agency’s German language sister organization, reported March 30 that food is being catered by the archdiocese’s general vicariate and that hygiene and safety standards are being overseen by Malteser, the medical organization of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

In addition to food, the seminary is providing access to showers to both men and women, with facilities open Saturdays to men between 11am and 1pm, and women between 1pm and 2pm. The archdiocese says that it expects to serve between 100-150 people.

Although homeless shelters remain open in the city, social distancing and other measures taken to halt the spread of coronavirus have added to ordinary difficulties faced by the homeless. In Cologne, Caritas have highlighted that those who rely on begging in the streets now have far fewer people whom they can ask for assistance.

"Many of the people on the street are just hungry and have not been able to wash for days," Woelki said on Monday.

The seminary is being partly staffed by volunteers from the archdiocesan youth center, as well as theology students from the schools in Cologne, Bonn and Sankt Augustin.

“Earlier today I had the chance to welcome the first 60 guests to our (temporarily) rededicated seminary,” Woelki said Monday via Twitter. “Many are in great need. But how inspiring it was to see the young volunteers and the sense of community.”

"Our congregations are not only worship congregations, but also always Caritas congregations, and every baptized Christian is not only called to worship and to profess faith, but also to charity," the cardinal said, adding that the Church’s call to service can never be suspended.

The archdiocese also announced Sunday that is providing medical treatment for six Italian coronavirus patients in need of intensive care. The patients were airlifted out of northern Italy, the region hardest-hit by the virus, by the German air force and the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Cardinal Woelki called the medical treatment “an act of charity and international solidarity” with the Italian people.

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