Confession wins homeless right to papal showers

2014-11-13 22:35

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Vatican City - Pope Francis has ordered the installation of showers for the homeless just next to St Peter's square after a street dweller declared himself too smelly to eat with a bishop.

In an initiative sparked by one of his closest aides' encounter with a down-and-out on the streets of Rome, the pontiff has given his blessing to an upgrade of public toilets intended to serve the millions of pilgrims and visitors who flock to the Vatican every year.

Next week, work will begin to install three showers to enable the homeless in the area to wash themselves and their clothes just yards from where the Argentinian pope lives in his modest apartment, having eschewed the splendour of the palatial residence put at the disposal of pontiffs.

Similar initiatives are already underway at 10 parishes across Rome at the bidding of Konrad Krajewski, a Polish bishop who currently serves as the pope's official almoner - the person in charge of delivering charity to the poor.

Krajewski, who remains widely known as father Konrad despite his lofty position, launched his initiative after a chance meeting with a homeless man from Sardinia, on one of the main streets leading to St Peter's in October.

The archbishop had just come from hearing confessions in the Church of the Holy Spirit and was in contemplative mood as he strolled down the Via della Conciliazione and bumped into the man.

"He told me that he was turning 50 that day and that he had been living on the street for 10 years," Krajewski recalled in an interview with Italian daily La Stampa on Thursday.

Moved, Krajewski issued an impromptu invitation to dinner which his new acquaintance initially declined, saying simply: "Puzzo" (I Smell).

Clerical persuasion prevailed however and over a Chinese meal, the man explained that while Rome was good at ensuring the homeless do not go hungry, staying clean was more complicated.

Krajewski promptly sprung into action. A construction firm volunteered to install the showers in parishes that did not already have them and a substantial donation from celebrated Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli also helped.

And the bishop insists he could not give a hoot if well-to-do visitors to the Vatican turn up their noses at having to share the toilets with the homeless.

"The Basilica exists in order to keep the Body of Christ, and we serve Jesus's suffering body by serving the poor," he said, echoing Pope Francis's statement on his appointment that he wanted the Church to be a "poor Church, for the poor."

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