ROME — The new “Pope Francis Laundry,” which opened in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood on Monday, represents the latest gift from the pope to the city’s poor and homeless.
A statement from the Office of Papal Charities said the initiative came from Pope Francis’s invitation to show “concrete” acts of mercy, in response to the experience of the Jubilee of Mercy, which ended last year.
The free service will allow the poor – especially those without homes – to wash, dry and iron their clothes in the San Gallicano center run by the Sant’Egidio community, which is headquartered nearby.
For over a decade, the center has been assisting the homeless of the city by providing showers, clothes, medical assistance, and food.
The new washroom includes six washers and dryers donated by Whirlpool, while Procter & Gamble donated washing detergent to the project.
Procter & Gamble were also involved in another of the pope’s initiatives to help the homeless of Rome. The corporation supplied shaving equipment for the washroom and barbershop the pontiff established near the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square in 2015.
Free shaves are given by local barbers on Mondays, the traditional day that barber shops are closed in the city.
“A person needs to keep their hair and facial hair tidy, also in order to prevent diseases,” Polish Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, said at the time.
“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.”
Krajewski is a well-known figure among the city’s poor, often personally delivering aid.
He has said that when he was appointed to the position – which heads the Office of Papal Charities – by Francis, the pontiff told him to “sell his desk,” because he wasn’t going to need it.
He followed the pope’s instructions to go out into the city and find those who need help, and personally brings food to homeless shelters, delivers thermal sleeping bags to those sleeping on the streets in the winter, and organizes social activities – such as concerts and visits to the Vatican Museums – for the needy.
Previous heads of the Office of Papal Charities – which is mostly dedicated to local works within Rome – usually just wrote checks, and rarely left the confines of Vatican City.
Francis takes a personal interest in the work, and whenever a visitor to the Vatican gives a cash donation, it’s forwarded to the office. The pope also holds a lottery to benefit the almoner’s work, with the gifts he receives – including cars and motorcycles – offered as prizes.
The pontiff even invited the archbishop and eight homeless people to have breakfast with him on his 80th birthday.
Krajewski can also use controversy to his advantage.
When a new McDonald’s opened a few months ago just a few yards from the entrance to Vatican City, many cardinals and Vatican officials who lived in the area complained. Soon after opening, and working with the Office of Papal Charities, the fast food restaurant started offering thousands of meals a week to the homeless who live in the area, which dampened the opposition.
Francis is the latest in a long line of popes to take an interest in Rome’s poor. The famous Trevi Fountain, for example, was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII to bring fresh water to the impoverished citizens of the city.