ROME — A concert on Vatican grounds with immigrants and the homeless as VIP guests will be held in mid-May, the pope’s personal charitable office announced Thursday, in what amounts to the latest response to Francis’ insistence on making the poor a priority.
“Poverty, as Pope Francis has reminded us, calls us to spread hope,” Italian Rev. Diego Giovanni Ravelli said, explaining the reason behind the concert.
Called “With the Poor, for the Poor,” the concert will be held May 14 in the Vatican’s Paul VI hall where popes usually hold their weekly audiences during winter. The pontiff is not expected to attend, but it hasn’t been ruled out as a possibility.
The concert, which will be free, was organized by the official in charge of the pope’s personal charity work, Polish Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, as well as the chorus of the Diocese of Rome and other Roman charities. To sustain the work of the Papal Charity Office, however, those in attendance who can afford it will be invited to give a voluntary donation.
The organizers estimate that 1/3 of the 7,000 people the venue can accommodate will be “from the outskirts of society:” the poor, the homeless, and refugees.
The Rev. Camillo Ripamonti, from the Jesuit-run Center Astalli that tends to more than 21,000 refugees living in Rome, also is among the concert’s organizers. He said the initiative is a small way of accompanying, defending, and serving the most vulnerable, that “the throwaway society ignores.”
According to Ravelli, the Papal Charity Office handed out $1.6 million in 2014, a 25 percent increase from the previous year before and a number that continues to grow. In March alone, for example, the office handed out more than $300,000, “a figure that will surely be exceeded in the current month,” Ravelli said.
The money is distributed to refugees, families in need, foreign students, immigrants, the sick, the elderly, single mothers, orphans, and abandoned children. The help is requested via letters addressed to the pope.
Last year, more than 8,000 requests were processed, most of which came from Rome.
“The office practices every-day charity,” Ravelli said. “As Francis told the homeless visiting the Sistine Chapel last month, ‘It’s a caress. A small one, but a caress nonetheless’.”
Last March, as an initiative of the Papal Charity Office, a group of homeless visited the Vatican Museums. Towards the end of the exclusive tour, they were received by Pope Francis, who told them the Vatican “is their home.”
The money to sustain the office comes from different sources. Most of it stems from the sale of papal blessing scrolls, ordered from all over the world.
According to Ravelli, Francis gives his daily support to the office by delivering envelopes with money on a daily basis.
“He receives donations from those who visit him. He puts an ‘F’ on them and addresses them to our office,” he said. “It’s his way of making himself present.”
A third source of funding, Ravelli said, is the “Papal Lottery,” organized by the government of the Vatican City State. The first, organized last January, collected what Ravelli described as “a considerable sum that surpassed our expectations.”
A second lottery is currently ongoing, with a car that was donated to Francis as the main prize.
Ravelli added that, despite Francis asking for a more “hands-on” charitable office, the figure of the papal almoner is one of the oldest of the Roman Curia and it was just as active under his predecessors.