Vatican City, Feb 17, 2015 / 04:01 am America/Denver (CNA).
As homeless men and women line up under the massive arms of Saint Peter's colonnade waiting to take advantage of the Vatican's newly-christened showers and barbershop, volunteers who assist them say they are deeply moved by their encounter with a population often rejected by society.
“Initially when they offered me this (job) I thought I would find myself confronted with grouchy, perhaps mean people,” said volunteer barber Danielle Mancuso.
“Instead, I discovered a truly tremendous humanity.”
“You see these poor people out in the middle of the street, discarded. Then, you speak to them, and they're human,” he said, recounting his first day.
Officially inaugurated on Feb. 16, the facilities provide the opportunity for homeless individuals to have their hair cut each Monday – a day when barber shops in Italy are traditionally closed – by volunteer barbers. Meanwhile, the shower services will be offered daily, with the exception of Wednesday due to the large crowds which attend the weekly general audience.
“I cut my hair, took a shower, beard, everything. It's wonderful!” 51-year-old Gregorio from Poland, who's been living in Rome for 13 years, told CNA.
Construction began in November on new showers and bathrooms under the colonnades of St. Peter’s Square.
Many barbers have volunteered with enthusiasm, including two barbers from the national Italian organization that transports the sick to Lourdes, France and other international shrines (UNITALSI). Other volunteers are finishing their final year in barber school.
“It's been a great lesson for me,” said Andrea Valeriano, an UNITALSI volunteer. “Everyone has waited (their turn) calmly. And I've seen a lot solidarity among them.”
Papal almoner Archbishop Konrad Krajewski spearheaded the reconstruction of St. Peter's square bathrooms to include the shower and barbershop facilities, which have witnessed a substantial response since their opening.
The Polish bishop is charged with the dual responsibility of carrying out acts of charity for the poor and raising the money to fund them. When the archbishop was appointed, Pope Francis urged him not to stay at his desk but rather to be an active worker for the benefit of the poor.
Vatican Insider reported that Archbishop Krajewski received his inspiration for the showers after taking a homeless man to dinner in order to celebrate his birthday. The man, who turned 50, told the archbishop that finding food in the city is easy, but staying clean was not.