This is a story, above all, of love; love that is given without expecting anything in return. It is the story of a place where people facing illness and disabilities smile.
In 1998, before becoming a priest, a young Italian discovered a place that changed his life forever. It is this castle that was converted into a home for children and young people with disabilities.
Years ago, it was a dark house in which many children were even tied to their beds and spent days without seeing sunlight. The Yugoslav wars had recently ended, and these little ones, about 120, were the last who remained. They were orphans or children abandoned by their parents.
FR. ERMANNO D'ONOFRIO
Founder, “Il giardino delle rose blu”
'I was very moved because I was not prepared to be with sick children. However, I knew right away that it was the place where I had to spend part of my life and, above all, to share my love for the Lord.'
What was once a place of suffering was transformed into a place to live, with simple but life-changing facilities for the children, such as a playground, an elevator, and bright rooms.
The center is in Gornja Bistra, a town in Croatia, and is the heart of the Foundation 'Il Giardino delle Rose Blu,” or “The Garden of Blue Roses.” They are the least common, and therefore one of the most special roses.
The initiative of the priest has been supported by thousands of volunteers who have given the children time and energy free of charge. However, the greatest gift is what they have received.
“We come with the desire to help, to give a smile, something so practical but also one of the most profound. However, upon returning home, one has received much, much more than he has given.”
“The most beautiful thing is that we, the volunteers, with just a simple walk or caress, can make their day change. Gornja is a place that has to be preserved. There are no words to describe what it feels like to meet the children from this hospital.”
More than 10,000 volunteers like these have passed through this center. They are not only from Italy, but also from Switzerland, Spain and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Many have shared the same experience of bringing a smile to those whom need love the most.
'These kids have something magical that touches you, and makes you want to come back here.'
FR. ERMANNO D'ONOFRIO
Founder, 'Il giardino delle rose blu'
“Thanks to the embrace of a child, a simple caress or a smile, these volunteers discover the true essentials of life, which seems to escape us daily.”
Enacted here is Pope Francis' recommended “therapy of love,” meaning sometimes the best treatment of all is love.