A homeless person sleeps rough near Rome’s main train station (ANSA)

By Devin Watkins

Dec 3 2020

As Covid-related restrictions encroach on family gatherings at Christmas, one Catholic community in Rome is offering people everywhere the chance to refresh their holiday cheer by giving to those in need.

As we all know, Christmas is the time for giving, an example we have received from God who gave His Only-Begotten Son to the world.

Yet this holiday season feels different. Many people are stuck at home as governments in many places prepare to limit families’ ability to spend time together, in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Though that will surely put a damper on the Christmas spirit, perhaps it’s also an opportunity to transform old habits and reach out to our neighbors in need.

Charites and churches everywhere have felt a cash crunch this year as physical presence plummets and the needs of those they assist skyrocket.

So, as a greater portion of our lives move online, Catholic charities are following the cyber trend to offer everyone a chance to rekindle their holy-day cheer.

Giving tradition

The Saint Nicholas Serata is one of those events, like many others, which has no goal other than that of supporting charities which help those in need.

This Roman tradition has been hosted annually by St. Patrick’s Catholic American Community in Rome, formerly Santa Susanna Church.

Typically held as a gala event with dinner, dancing, and a silent auction, the Saint Nicholas Serata this year has morphed into an online event called the “Serata-thon”.

According to the Rector of St. Patrick’s and the event’s chief organizer, the goal of helping four charities in Rome remains the same.

“We are carrying on the long tradition of giving back to the local community,” Father Steven Petroff C.S.P. told Vatican Radio. “For the last 20 years, the Serata has been an annual fundraising event supporting local Roman charities.”

Serata-thon for charity

Despite the pandemic and the various restrictions it has imposed, Fr Petroff said those organizations are still working to help Rome’s poor.

He said the four charities’ needs “do not end and are probably even greater now than ever.”

So, instead of throwing in the towel, the parish community adapted the event to allow socially-distanced but charity-driven Catholics around the world an opportunity to help those in need in the Eternal City.

“We’ve redone our website and we’ve relabelled it as the Saint Nicholas Serata-thon, because it’s a time-based telethon,” said Fr Petroff.

Limited time, big opportunity

It kicked off on Thanksgiving Day and runs for ten days, until Saturday, 5 December, at noon.

Anyone, in any place, can get involved by making a donation, which goes entirely to the chosen charities.

As a small incentive, a donation gets the giver a virtual raffle ticket and the chance to win an iPhone 12 Pro and one of several other prizes, such as weekend hotel stays in Rome or gift certificates to local restaurants.

Who does it help?

The four local charities which benefit from the Saint Nicholas Serata-thon cover a wide range of social assistance areas.

One of them assists women of all walks of life who have faced abuse.

Fr. Petroff says the Fondazione Arché has the specifically stated goal of helping these women “live autonomously with their children, without fear.”

Two other charities work with refugees and asylum seekers who have made their way to Rome.

The Centro Astalli Refugee Center helps men, women, and children immigrants from over 30 countries with all aspects of life – from meals and accommodation to healthcare and legal assistance.

The other – the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center – is run by the St. Paul Inside the Walls Episcopal Church, and offers about 250 rough-sleeping asylum seekers a place to relax away from Rome’s busy streets. It also helps them with legal advice, employment clinics, and language courses.

The fourth – Fondazione Internazionale Don Luigi di Liegro – focuses on community outreach to mental health patients, who are at various levels of recovery. It helps around 500 people with socializing, relationships, and a variety of different therapies through the work of some 2,000 volunteers.

Charitable lifeline

Fr. Petroff said the Saint Nicholas Serata provides an annual lifeline to these charities.

“I know they are still working and are active despite the pandemic,” he said. “So, it is a great way for people to do something this Advent season.”

To get involved, please visit the event’s website. – Vatican News