ROME — As of Feb. 16, homeless people around the Vatican will be able to shower under the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square, and, if they do so on Mondays, they also may emerge sporting a new haircut and trimmed beard.
“Our primary concern is to give people their dignity,” said Polish Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, head of the Office of Papal Charities.
The pope’s new service will be provided by volunteer barbers whose shops usually are closed on Mondays. The charitable project will rely heavily on donations, including razors, scissors, mirrors, towels, and chairs, some of which the barbers have already contributed.
Speaking with Italian news agency ANSA, Krajewski said that “when a person has no means of washing themselves, they are rejected by society. We all know that a homeless person cannot enter a public establishment such as a bar or a restaurant and ask to use the bathroom because they are told to go away.”
Krajewski pointed out that showering and washing one’s underwear is not enough.
“A person needs to keep their hair and facial hair tidy, also in order to prevent diseases,” said the papal almoner. “This is another service that homeless people do not have easy access to. It is not easy for them to enter a normal shop because there may be a fear of customers catching something, like scabies, for example.”
When Krajewski was appointed papal almoner, the Pope urged him not to do the job from his desk, but to be out and about, reaching out to the poor and distributing aid.
The three shower stalls and the pope’s barber shop are located inside one of the massive Tuscan colonnades, four columns deep, that extend from St. Peter’s Basilica. Constructed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the 1650s, they were intended to portray the arms of the Church embracing those who enter the square.
Pope Francis’ initiative is far from the first papal gesture toward the homeless in Rome. The famous Trevi Fountain, for example, was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII to bring fresh water to the city’s poor.