Vatican officials held a funeral Mass on Jan. 10 for Alexander Pawlewski, a beggar who was often seen on the streets of Rome and died from exposure to the cold last month.
The Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, who is responsible for distributing donations to those in need on behalf of Pope Francis. Father Policarpo Nowak of the Vatican Secretariat of State delivered the homily.
“Let us defend ourselves from the evil of selfishness and indifference, offering more time to our neighbor, and above all recognizing his full dignity as a child of God,” the priest said.
Pawlewski, a 63 year-old Polish national, was found dead on the street with his sole possessions – a cardboard box he used as a bed and a blanket to keep warm.
The Community of Sant'Egidio, which has helped the poor around the Vatican for more than 30 years, often provided him with assistance and took charge of organizing his funeral in collaboration with the Pontifical Urban University.
The funeral Mass came a month after Pawlewski's death and was held at the university chapel. Members of the Community of Sant'Egidio, Vatican personnel and some of his fellow homeless friends attended the funeral. Friends said no family member ever took interest in him.
In his homily, Fr. Nowak urged a greater openness to those who live in poverty.
“Due to the economic, spiritual and moral crisis of today, the hearts of many are frozen and many are dying in inhumane conditions,” he said.
“When we encounter the poor,” he reflected, “do we treat them with affection or do we humiliate them? Let us remember that Christ became man choosing to be poor, and therefore the poor are truly privileged relatives of Jesus, like Mary. So treat them and look at them as such.”
Carlo Santoro of the Community of Sant'Egidio said loneliness “is something very common among those who live on the street. They truly suffer because of it.”
“I assure you that the homeless, the poor, are exactly like us and therefore, they have the right to a beautiful funeral, only sometimes these are people who die alone and no one knows of their death,” Father Nowak said.