Vatican City, Mar 27, 2015 / 10:24 am
Pope Francis stopped by to visit with 150 of Rome's homeless in the Sistine Chapel after they were invited for dinner and a private tour by the Vatican.
"Welcome. This is everyone's house, and your house. The doors are always open for all," the Pope told his homeless guests during their March 26 visit to the Vatican Museums. He said that their visit was like a tender caress from God.
The group was invited by Papal Almoner Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, who oversees the office of papal charities.
In the course of the visit, the homeless guests received a tour of the Vatican City State, passing by the Santa Martha guesthouse where the Pope lives, as well as several galleries in the Vatican Museums, culminating with the Sistine Chapel.
Although cameras and photographers were prohibited, the Vatican's press office said that the Pope was with the group for at least 20 minutes, and greeted each person individually with a handshake.
Francis thanked Archbishop Krajewski for putting the initiative together. He told the group, "Pray for me. I'm in need of prayers by people like you," and asked that the Lord would "protect and help you in the path of life and make you feel His tender love of a Father."
After their meeting with the Pope, the homeless were invited to dinner in the restaurant of the Vatican Museums.
Before going to the Sistine Chapel, the group's tour of the Vatican Museums first included a stop at the Carriage Pavilion and then went on to the Upper Galleries – including the Gallery of the Candelabra and the Gallery of Maps – before visiting the apartment of Pius V and finally the Sistine Chapel itself.
Their tour of the museums was guided, and included headphones as well as custodians who helped them carry their personal belongings, which many homeless individuals carry with them at all times.
The initiative is the latest in a string of charitable initiatives enacted by Archbishop Krajewski on behalf of Pope Francis since his election two years ago.
In November of last year, Archbishop Krajewski met a homeless man who said that although a sandwich was easy to find in Rome, a way to keep clean was not. As a result, the archbishop had the public bathrooms in St. Peter's Square remodeled to include showers and clean underclothes for those in need.
Completed in February of this year, the bathroom initiative rolled out alongside a haircut service for the homeless, who receive the free services on Mondays – when many other barbershops are closed – at the hands of volunteer stylists.
Other acts of charity include the December distribution of sleeping bags for the homeless coinciding with the Pope's birthday, as well as the handing-out of 300 umbrellas to those living on the streets during Rome's rainy month of February.
Pope Francis on Sunday commissioned 400 of Rome's homeless residents to assist him in distributing a pocket-sized book of the Gospels to faithful who had gathered for his weekly Angelus prayer, saying to receive the Word of God from their hands was a reminder that it is the poor who preach the Gospel to us.
In addition to offering lunch to the homeless who helped in the square Sunday, the Pope's almoner also helped to deliver 1,000 pounds of food to the poor in Rome's Tor Bella Monaca neighborhood with the help of the Institute of Medicine Solidarity Onlus.
Pope Francis had been in the neighborhood March 8 for his visit to the parish of Santa Maria Madre del Redentore. Archbishop Krajewski was scheduled to deliver the food March 21.