KRAKOW, Poland – After a 10-day stay in the hospital battling COVID-19, one of Pope Francis’s closest cardinals came home on Friday to find a gift from the boss: An Argentinian steak.
“It was a different Christmas,” Polish Cardinal Konrad Krajewski told Crux. “But I was sitting with Jesus every day, thanks to the doctors who were bringing him to me.”
Locked in the hospital during Christmas and New Year’s, the cardinal said doctors had helped him not only physically, but also spiritually, bringing him the Eucharist wrapped in clean medical gauze. Unable to say Mass, he consumed it during vespers.
Krajewski is the papal almoner, an institution dating back at least 800 years that is in charge of the pontiff’s charitable actions in the city of Rome.
The cardinal had been hospitalized in the capital’s Gemelli Hospital since Dec.21.
The office of the papal almoner has been given a new prominence under Francis, and Krajewski is widely seen as one of the pontiff’s closest collaborators.
This has been especially true during the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit Italy hard: Almost 75,000 people have died during the crisis, and the infection curve is again growing.
Since the crisis began, the cardinal has been tasked not only with helping the homeless and poor in Italy, but also throughout the world, delivering respirators in the pope’s name where they were most needed, including Syria, Brazil and Venezuela.
The prelate was treated for COVID-19 related pneumonia at the Gemelli, after being transferred from the Vatican’s health center, where he tested positive for the new coronavirus.
The pope and the Polish cardinal often exchange gifts: For Krajewki’s 57 birthday on Nov. 25, Francis sent him a cake with the number 75 on top of it – the customary age for a bishop and higher to present their resignations to the pope. On Dec. 21, the pope’s birthday, “Don Conrado” – as the cardinal is known in the Vatican – sent the pontiff sunflowers at the request of Rome’s homeless.
On Saturday, Krajewski called Poland’s Radio Maria to pray with the listeners and thank them: “I would like to thank you for the fact that during my 10-day stay in the hospital – I’ve returned home now – my religious life continued thanks to Radio Maria. Only in this way, could I participate in my religious life and pray with others.”
The prelate had asked doctors not to keep him in the hospital only “because I’m a cardinal,” and to release him as soon as his health allowed to make the bed available to others who needed it more.
Speaking about the steak from the pope, Krajewski admitted to being really moved by the gesture: “He truly is a pastor who listens to things you share with him and reacts in a very human way.”
On Saturday morning, the cardinal was tested again and the results came back negative. He’s expected to have one more test to make sure he’s fully recovered and no longer carrying the virus.
Krajewski made the news early in the pandemic when Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, the cardinal vicar of Rome, announced in March the unprecedented decision to close all the churches in the Diocese of Rome to slow the spread of the coronavirus. In response, the Polish cardinal opened his titular church, Santa Maria Immacolata, located in Rome’s Esquiline neighborhood.
“It is the act of disobedience, yes, I myself put the Blessed Sacrament out and opened my church,” Krajewski told Crux at the time.
“It did not happen under fascism, it did not happen under the Russian or Soviet rule in Poland – the churches were not closed,” he said, adding that “this is an act that should bring courage to other priests.”
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma