Church adapts aid tradition to today’s needs

Soup kitchens, homes for the aged, orphanages, medical centers and homes for the disabled are just some of the charitable activities by the Church of Greece in which both clerics and the laity take an active part. Benevolent work at the Archdiocese and local dioceses offers aid to all those in need irrespective of race, ethnic group or religious affiliation, in a tradition that dates back to the fourth century AD, when the poor and destitute of Asia Minor found refuge in the hospitals and poorhouses set up by Basil the Great, the first bishop who established an organized system of social welfare. From its early history, the Orthodox Church has cared for the poor, widows, orphans and the disabled. Today the Church tries to provide solutions to the problems created by modern life and isolation, such as homelessness, drugs, abuse of women and the plight of refugees. These are just some of the vulnerable social groups in which the Church has shown an interest, particularly in recent years. Last April, the Athens Archdiocese, on the initiative of Archbishop Christodoulos, opened a philanthropic store, Tavitha (Akominatou Street, between Karaiskakis and Vathis squares), which provides clothes and shoes to the poor and homeless of Athens, inmates of prisons around the country and to the center for repatriated Greeks at Lavrion. Themistocles Christodoulou, director of the Christian Solidarity Department at the Archdiocese, said that over the past eight months, the store has handed out over 35,000 items of clothing to more than 1,200 people. «Of these, 280 were homeless. We gave them a total of 1,761 items of clothing,» he said. The number of homeless people in Athens continues to grow, so with the help of a group of volunteers and a specially adapted vehicle, the Church decided to start a «meals on wheels» program they have called «The Love Ark,» which since April has provided more than 6,500 meals. The next step is a refuge for the homeless. «It will be a place where they can have a bath, find clothing, hot food and a bed for one or two nights. A social worker and doctor will be on hand,» said Christodoulou. «We hope to have an employment office on site to help the homeless try and get back into the mainstream.» Children’s refuge Near Plato’s Academy, a district of Athens where conditions are particularly difficult, Father Antonios Papanikolaou has set up a refuge for over 250 children with the help of parishioners and volunteers from around Athens. Many of the children are refugees from various parts of the world. «There are children with just one parent who is often not in a position to care for them properly, such as mothers who are either very young, dealing with a mental illness, or on drugs,» said Father Antonios. «All the burden of care for the child falls on our shoulders – daily care, clothing, medical care. Our volunteers take them to school, help them with their homework and also offer coaching to high school pupils.» The refuge is housed in an old cafe, now filled with color and children’s voices. There is also a refuge for homeless mothers, with bathrooms and facilities for washing clothes. «Every day we feed 130 children. Unfortunately, we have to be selective, as our finances are limited,» said Father Antonios. The center was set up with the help of 50 volunteers, with the aim of saving children from drugs and poverty and giving them a better chance in life.