Originally published in Christian Today
The Vatican has announced plans to install showers specifically to be used by homeless people in St Peter’s Square.
In the shadow of St Peter’s Basilica there will be a space to wash, with clean towels and underwear also available. It will be manned by volunteers.
“We have to be evangelical, but intelligent, too,” Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, told Catholic News Service upon announcing the project.
The plans are a response to the needs of homeless people in the area, one of whom – a Sardinian known only as Franco – told Bishop Krajewski: “Here, no one starves to death, you can find a sandwich every day. But there is no place to use the toilet and wash.”
The archbishop told the Vatican Insider that he had been speaking to Franco in early October, and found that it was his birthday. He invited the 50-year-old to dinner, but Franco declined, insisting that he would not be allowed into restaurants because of his smell.
“I took him with me nonetheless. We went to a Chinese restaurant. During dinner, he explained to me that you can always find some food in Rome. What is missing is places to wash,” Bishop Krajewski said.
The building of three showers within the public restrooms for pilgrims, located a few steps north of Bernini’s Colonnade, will therefore begin on November 17. It follows the instalment of similar showers across ten parishes in Rome, as decreed by Krajewski.
“The Holy Father told me at the beginning: ‘You can sell your desk. You don’t need it. You need to get out of the Vatican. Don’t wait for people to come ringing. You need to go out and look for the poor,'” Krajewski has said of his duties.
He spends every day finding people who have written to the pope asking for help, speaking with them and offering to do what he can.
“It is not simple,” he said of this latest plans. “It is easier to prepare sandwiches than to run a shower service – you need volunteers, towels, clean underwear.”
Pope Francis is renowned for his heart for the poor and for eschewing the usual papal privileges in favour of a simple way of life.
During his inauguration Mass, he highlighted the calling on all Christians to be close to “the poorest, the weakest, the least important…the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, those in prison”.
“I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security,” he wrote in his apostolic exhortation.
This week, Francis wrote to the chair of the G20 summit, urging world leaders to focus on caring for the poor and marginalised, and offer “real improvements in the living conditions of poorer families and the reduction of all forms of unacceptable inequality”.
“A mindset in which individuals are ultimately discarded will never achieve peace or justice,” he said. “Responsibility for the poor and the marginalised must therefore be an essential element of any political decision, whether on the national or the international level.”