Sophie Rosaenz

For 14 years, the “Toit pour toi” (“A Roof for You”) association has run a temporary housing scheme lasting from 1 to 6 months. It is dedicated to helping young people in difficulty, aged 18 to 30. Occupying a wing of the Sacré-Coeur diocesan sanctuary building at 22 Rue de France in Nice, the association is run by two missionaries, Father Alfonso BARTOLOTTA, OMI, (Italian), and Brother Mariusz LORENC, OMI, (Polish).

A first impression: visiting “Toit pour toi”

On June 14th, Father Alfonso BARTOLOTTA received me. The interview began with an ascent of four floors to reach the “Zen zone,” comprising a lounge, an oratory, and a terrace. Father Alfonso puts me in the “young guest situation”: we talk in the “Zen Zone” and visit the bedrooms and the kitchen. Father Alfonso explains to me from the outset that the four floors are a good test of a young person’s stamina, and the questioning about the rooms a revelation of character: “If a young person refuses to share a room, he won’t be accepted, because it’s obvious that he won’t be able to fit in with the others.”

Toit pour toi” offers accommodation for eight people: four single rooms with shower and washbasin and two double rooms. The father and brother sleep on site and share the young people’s daily routines. “That means cleaning and cooking. We often live like them, much to their astonishment,” smiles Father Alfonso. An avid traveller with 30 years of priesthood, he oversaw the Pontifical Mission Societies (P.M.S.) for five years in Paris. This globetrotter (as he calls himself) found himself in this “cloistered” life six years ago, working on human and faith-based projects designed to open hearts and minds to “what children elsewhere are experiencing.”

“My mission was to be on the road, travelling the world. I had to change my vision. What I have experienced elsewhere, I am going to experience within. The world was elsewhere; now, the world is my home.” Enthusiastic and passionate, he walks with these young people in difficulty and applies the Word of the Church: “Take care of others” on a daily basis, and he quotes, with a big smile, Matthew 25: “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.”

Who are these young people?

They all arrive through social workers. An outside organization monitors each of them, and their files are used to assess their social and psychological progress. Of different nationalities and beliefs, most of them have suffered trauma and hardship. In six years, 115 young people have been housed – 90 men and 25 women of 30 nationalities from four continents have coexisted: 94% of Muslim faith, some Catholics, Protestants, and others who define themselves as atheists or of no religion. A fabulous mix emblematized by the “coexist” sign, with three letters replaced by the symbols of the three monotheistic religions.

“A Roof for You”: from its origins to 2023

It was a Polish priest, Greg SKICKI, who arrived in Nice in 2009 and saw the space made available to the Oblates – an entire wing – and the surrounding poverty of Nice. Thus began the internal challenge of making room in a wing of the building to provide a reception area.

Father Alfonso confides, “It was a change of thinking that shook things up a bit,” before continuing philosophically: “To shake things up is to let them move; it’s a conversion, and we always have our place.” With Father Alfonso, it’s not just a question of words; the symbolism is applied to everyday life and lived out at every moment: “Jesus always calls in pairs. The second missionary sent was Jacques LANGLET, a French Oblate brother. He stayed for six years before being replaced by Brother Mariusz LORENC. A priest with a brother, each dedicated to the missionary life. Two visions to express the same thing.

From the outset, all the Association’s decisions were made in pairs. After seven years, the founder left the Association and was replaced by a priest, the current Father Alfonso. The father had to learn from the brother: “Let yourself be taught, guided, questioned. It is a human and spiritual opportunity, even if we’re asked to “embrace the mission entrusted to you wherever you go.” Reality is complex.”

The Association’s reality is its group: twenty-nine lay members engaged in various activities. Most notable is the annual flea market in June. Profits are donated to the organization, while unsold items are donated to Emmaus. “You have received freely; give freely” (Mt 10, 8). “Jams are the buzz! In 2022, 773 jars of 15 assorted flavours made by 4 women!” Father Alfonso raves like a child about this incredible score. The oldest woman is 92, and the youngest is 70!

The Association is undergoing a double departure: Brother Mariusz has been posted to Aix-en-Provence for community needs, and Father Alfonso is taking a sabbatical year in Madagascar. However, the Association’s work continues! Two continents will be reunited: Jean-Baptiste MPUNI, (Congolese), and Joseph OAI, (Vietnamese). Two priests together… for the first time.

Father Alfonso concludes from his experience with “Toit pour toi”: “I’m rich in human terms. Existing together, with the richness of our differences. I have given the best of myself by talking about God through life.

Sophie Rosaenz
Communications Officer