Vatican City, Nov 14, 2014 / 14:59 pm
After hearing from a homeless man that a bath is more urgently need than food in Rome, the Vatican's papal almoner commissioned that showers be added to the public restrooms in St. Peter's Square.
"The Basilica exists in order to keep the Body of Christ, and we serve Jesus' suffering body by serving the poor. Always, in the history of Rome, the poor congregated around the Basilicas," Bishop Konrad Krajewski told Vatican Insider in an article published on Nov. 13.
The Vatican agency reports that Bishop Krajewski received his inspiration after taking a homeless man to dinner in order to celebrate his birthday.
As papal almoner, the Polish bishop is charged with the dual responsibility of carrying out acts of charity for the poor as well as raising the money to fund them.
One example of how the almoner's office funds it's work are papal blessings, which consist of a papal blessing written on parchment for various occasions such as a wedding, baptism or priestly ordination, along with picture of the Pope, which is then blessed by the pontiff after purchase.
After leaving Rome's Holy Spirit church where he hears confessions one night at the beginning of October, Bishop Krajewski came across a homeless man named Franco, who had been living on the streets for 10 years, and was celebrating his 50th birthday that day.
In honor of the Franco's birthday, the bishop invited him to dinner, however upon reaching the restaurant, the man told him "Father, I can't go to the restaurant with you because I smell."
"I took him with me nonetheless. We went to a Chinese restaurant," the bishop recalled, explaining that in the course of dinner, the man told him that "Here no one starves to death, you can find a sandwich every day. But there is no place to use the toilet and wash."
Although there are many soup kitchens providing food and even some parishes, such as the Sant'Egidio community, which offer showers to Rome's homeless population, Franco told the bishop that these places are often overcrowded and have a short time limit.
Previously considering food to be a primary concern for the poor, the Papal Almoner took immediate action and commissioned the renovation of the public bathrooms just under Bernini's colonnades in St. Peter's Square.
Construction will begin on the bathrooms, which the Vatican Governorate had been planning to renovate for some time, on Nov. 17 of this year and will be paid for by the Pope's charity, Vatican Insider reports.
In addition to adding the three private showers to the basilica's public restrooms, 10 parishes in the neighborhoods most frequented by Rome's homeless population have already built showers at the almoner's request.
Bishop Krajewski stressed the urgency of responding to the needs of the poor in a timely manner, saying that "In the Gospel, Jesus always uses the word 'today,' and it is today that we must respond to people's needs."
According to Vatican Insider, the new showers will not be expensive and are designed strictly for those who already live in the area of the basilica and other parishes in order to relieve the larger support centers, since public restrooms are closed and the homeless are unable to use the toilets in cafés.
"It is not simple, because it is easier to make sandwiches than run a shower service. We need volunteers, towels, underwear," the bishop explained.
However, he noted that divine providence always provides, and revealed that numerous individuals have already intervened, including the world-renown Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, who is making a large donation through his foundation.
While the bishop recognized that some tourists who visit the basilica, which is one of the largest tourist attractions in the world, might be put off by the presence of homeless persons coming to the square for a shower, he also acknowledged that it is the Church's responsibility to care for the poor.
"The Basilica exists in order to keep the Body of Christ, and we serve Jesus' suffering body by serving the poor," he said, observing how throughout Rome's history the poor have always congregated around basilicas.
In addition to the showers, Bishop Krajewski is also seeking the help of those in beauty schools, so that once in a while the homeless can receive a haircut as well as the opportunity to wash themselves.
The reason for keeping the homeless clean and tidy, he explained, is because it reduces the risk of diseases spread through dirt.