With the beginning of the pontificate of pope Francis, poor people took an unusual place in the Church. – When a number of votes reached two third and it started to be ‘dangerous’- said pope Bergoglio during the first meeting with journalists, soon after being elected – cardinal Hummes cuddled me, kissed me and said: ‘Do not forget about the poor’. When there was the time of counting votes, I was thinking about Francis of Assisi. I would really like the Church to be poor and for the poor.

An Office of Apostolic Charity

Mention about the office of the papal almoner appears for the first time in the bulla of pope Innocent III. Leon XIII delegated him to give blessing on behalf of the pope on a special paper. Under the apostolic constitution ‘Pastor bonus’ (from 1998) the office directly undergoes the Holy Father and on behalf of him it serves the poor. But nothing has been said before about initiatives of this office, as during the current pontificate of pope Francis. Generally what was only known was applying for papal blessing – donation for it was intended for charities of the Holy See. Parchment with the Vatican stamp on which there is information that pope gives his blessing, which the Catholics can gain on the occasion of accepting sacraments, jubilees, is edited in all languages by the Office of Apostolic Charity. On the parchment there is a signature of the papal almoner. For, his duties include giving alms to people in need on behalf of the Holy Father. An almoner with a prefect of the Papal House takes part in ceremonies and general audiences, as an archbishop from the closest group, a member of the Papal Family and the Papal House.

Vatican initiatives for the poor

Every year, on the occasion of the feasts of Saint Apostles Peter and Paul in Rome there are collections of donations for charity fund of the pope, which is passed over to the Holy Father for financing works of mercy. This tradition reaches back to the VII century when in whole Europe bishops and abbots used to collect the so-called Denarius S. Petri, which then they used to send to the pope. In the Roman diocese, since 1912 the collection of donations have been in hands of Circolo di S. Pietro, brotherhood, whose members belong to the papal service.

One of modern forms of collecting donations for the poor is the Vatican Charity Lottery. A car, bikes, watches, mobile phones, fountain pens, leather bags, hand-woven carpets, china vases, coffee-makers – this is what one can win in it, that is, gifts which pope Francis received. The lottery to the needs of charities of the Holy Father, organized by the Governorship of the Holy See – this time Christmas edition – will take place in February 2016. Draws can be bought in the Vatican offices: in the Vatican Post Office, museum, pilgrimage centres near the St. Peter’s Square – at the price of 10 euro per item. Organizers planned over 30 consolation prizes. The income from the lottery under the motto: ‘We help the poor’, will be intended for initiatives connected with Roman homeless. Media speculate that this everyday idea of the lottery has also been suggested by the Polish archbishop Konrad Krajewski – the papal almoner.

A guest at home – God at home

Feed the hungry. Give accommodation to travelers. Pope Francis knows deeds of mercy very well. Help of the Holy See to immigrants is not a secret. When a boat of immigrants fell over and over 350 people died, archbishop Konrad went to Lampedus island. He gave not only clothes to those who survived, but also over 1600 phone cards so that they could phone their homes. 2 years ago, near Rome, from the initiative of the Holy Father, a deserted building of the previous school was changed to a temporary house for newcomers. – When we got there with the papal almoner – one of volunteers says – outside the building there was a fire engine. A cistern with water was used as a shower, as in the school building there bathrooms did not work. A group of African people, who arrived Italy by boat, had a wash under the temporary shower. We started sharing transported food. When we were getting into a car, in order to set off back, archbishop Krajewski assured drivers with ‘a papal motel’: I will ask Pope to buy bathroom showers.

Bergoglio knows buildings of convent houses very well. Corridors excluded from using, the so-called guest rooms – always empty. He knows apartments of bishops and cardinals. Hence, there is his appeal to open the door to Syrian refugees. Also flats in Vatican were intended for accommodation of two families. One of the first ones who responded to this appeal was bishop Giovanni D’Ercole, appointed a vice-director of the Holy See Press Office by John Paul II in 1997. On TV Rai the priest runs a programme: ‘On the way to Damascus’. The title of the programme seems a nice coincidence, for ‘guests’ arrive in Italy from….Damascus. – We cannot be indifferent –says the bishop. – My house is big enough and cozy in order to give accommodation to 5 people. We should support Pope’s will and those who are in need, I hope that my gesture will be an example for other bishops.

However, not everybody think so. There are a lot of critical voices concerning both help to immigrants and the homeless.

Houses full of love

At the Termini station, every night a few hundred newcomers from Senegal, Afghanistan, put their sleeping bags. But there are also the Italians among them. In the world in which ‘making a good impression’ rules, it is difficult to find work, when one has not got any accommodation or a place to have a wash. There are more such places in Rome where there are the homeless. In 1988 on the area of the Vatican State at Piazza del Sant ‘Ufffizio a house ‘Mary’s Gift’ was opened, which to the request of Mother Theresa from Calcutta was given to the poor by John Paul II. This house can give accommodation to 80 women (25 of them are permanent residents), and nearly 100 men have meals here. However, for pope Francis it was still too little…At the column of Bernini, bathrooms for the homeless were opened, in which free hairdresser’s service is also provided. A few months ago, also a few steps from the Vatican, at Via dei Penitenzieri, in a building given to Pope by the Jesuits, another centre was established – ‘A Gift of Mercy’ which is going to give accommodation to 34 men. A photo of Pope with archbishop Konrad in a laundry of the newly opened house, at a dryer with laundry, published in the magazine ‘My Pope’ (28 October 2015) spread all over the world. ‘Pope gives the homeless a washing machine’ – we read on the cover…. On Via Rattazzi near Termini and at San Gregorio al Celio, there are also houses financed by the Apostolic Charity Office, which had earlier covered costs of repair works, adjusting buildings to a new function.

Wanderers, the homeless or beggars became an element of the architecture of the Eternal City. Nobody is surprised by the queue to a plate of soup outside Caritas of the Roman Diosese nor a stretched out hand for alms in the street. Every homeless person is a separate story, which nobody of us may get to know…. Polish nuns – cooperators of archbishop Konrad with guardians collect things in order to give them to the poorest. The Papal Almoner knows where to find them. He knew it before he took over his post…

A disciple of John Paul II

‘When the Holy Father died, I was walking along Vatican corridors, still fulfilling his function of a ceremony organizer, and I was crying – it was how archbishop Konrad Krajewski was remembering the day of 2 April 2005 on pages of the magazine ‘Totus Tuus’ (4/2008). – It was probably the first time in my life I had not been ashamed of my tears. But these were tears over myself: that I am not as Him, that I am not a saint, that I am not completely devoted to God, that I am not simply ‘Totus Tuus’. It was just Fr. Krajewski who laid the Holy Book on the papal coffin…’I do not remember what I was thinking about, carrying the Gospels Book in front of the coffin of John Paul II. I only wanted to carry It with dignity. In the same way as one carries the most important Book of one’s life. The Book of life of John Paul II. I was laying this most important Book of the world on His coffin and I felt how much I did not deserve to this gesture. I felt so little and so sinful. I was asking God to let me carry it, as John Paul II had used to. May I never close It’.

Archbishop Konrad Krajewski has a function of a papal almoner today. On 2 August 2013 pope Francis appointed him a titular archbishop Beneventum; on 17 September in the Basilica of St. Peter he was ordained a bishop. As a bishop’s thought he chose the word: ‘Misericordia’ – Mercifulness. It is not difficult to notice that he is a disciple of John Paul II…


„Niedziela” 51/2015

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: