ROME — First Pope Francis gave the homeless in and around St. Peter’s Square sleeping bags to mark his birthday last December. Then the Vatican built showers and got barbers and hairdressers to give them free haircuts and shaves. And now it’s planning to throw open the doors of its museums and the Sistine Chapel to them.
The initiative comes from Polish Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the man appointed by Pope Francis as his personal representative in aiding the poor.
This week, Krajewski announced that on Thursday, a group of 150 homeless men and women will get a guided visit of the museums and take part in a private prayer in the Sistine Chapel, followed by a free dinner at the museum’s restaurant.
According to L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, the visit is designed to allow the poor to admire the artistic beauty that lies inside the Vatican’s walls, not just what’s visible from the steps of the colonnade around St. Peter’s Square.
The newspaper said that Krajewski’s guests will be divided into three groups, with a guide and headphones to take full advantage of the visit that will also include a walk through the Vatican Gardens.
The museums will close to the public 90 minutes early to guarantee the guests have the Sistine Chapel to themselves.
During the weekend, Krajewski visited the Roman neighborhood of Tor Bella Monaca to distribute half a ton of food that Pope Francis sent for the poor families of the area, after a pastoral visit he paid to the parish of Santa Maria Madre del Redentore on March 8.
On Sunday, 400 homeless men distributed more than 50,000 pocket-sized Gospels to the faithful who had attended the weekly Angelus prayer in Rome’s St. Peter Square.
“In this we see a gesture very beautiful and that Jesus likes: Those most in need are the ones who [give us] the gift of the word of God,” Francis said.
Speaking to journalists in 2013, Krajewki said that from day one, Francis had asked him to get out of the Vatican to look for the poor.
“The Holy Father told me: ‘You can sell your desk. You don’t need it’” he said.
Krajewski explained that every morning, a Vatican security officer goes from Santa Marta, the hotel inside Vatican grounds where Francis lives, to his office, bringing a bundle of letters written by people asking Pope Francis for help.
Krajewski was the man who organized the lunch between a group of homeless men (and their dog) and Francis on his first birthday as pontiff. He also was the driving force behind the shower stalls and barbershop, as well as the distribution of 300 umbrellas left at the museums during the winter.
The charitable office this week also announced plans for Pope Francis’ second raffle drawing, this time with a Kia Soul car as the main prize. In all, there are more than 30 prizes, all of them items selected from among the gifts that the pontiff receives each week from visitors.
Tickets cost $11 and are available for purchase only in Rome. Krajewski will distribute the proceeds to the poor.