Christmas Vatican stamps are among the most recognizable postal stamps in the world. This year the Holy Family and the Magi featured on a special Yuletide francobollo (Italian for “stamp”) have a very special story behind them, as they were drawn by a painter-in-residence at a Vatican palace who was homeless just a year ago.

Adam Piekarski is a 42-year-old Pole living in Rome for 6 years now. He was sleeping on the streets until a Polish Redemptorist, Father Leszek Pyś, found out he paints.

“More than a year ago Pyś saw me drawing and asked me whether I could paint a portrait for their chapel, and that’s how it started,” Piekarski said.

The news quickly spread that Piekarski paintings are valuable pieces of art, and on April 19, 2021, Polish Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the pope’s point man for charitable activity, offered Piekarski a workshop in the attic of the Palazzo Migliore, a palace-turned-homeless-shelter just footsteps from Bernini’s famous colonnade at the Vatican.

“It felt like a birthday gift, since my birthday was just a day before I entered my new workshop,” Piekarski told Crux.

“I can work and create thanks to good people,” he said. “After two initial orders, people just started to come and ask me to paint their family, children, and even their dogs!”

In late spring, a special pontifical order was placed to paint an image for the world-renowned series of holiday stamps issued annually by the Vatican, which is known this year as “Natale MMXXI,” or “Christmas 2021.”

“It is still unreal to me, and I still don’t believe this honor is mine,” Piekarski said. “I am a simple craftsman, and this just completely surprised me”.

Piekarski said he hopes the joy doesn’t overwhelm him.

“I don’t want to end up in euphoria, because this [could] end badly for me,” he said, explaining that he’s an alcoholic.

“The addiction is still there, and Satan is working hard to get me in those moments of triumph,” Piekarski said. “But I try to hang on, work helps me a lot”.

The two stamps Adam has painted present the Holy Family and the Three Magi.

“It’s a revolution at the Vatican that a homeless person painted the images for our famous stamps”, Krajewski told Crux. “And they paid him well!”

The Magis painted by Adam have the faces of homeless men from Palazzo Migliore, the Vatican’s own homeless shelter.

Piekarski said he knows such faces well, as he lived on the streets himself for almost twenty years.

“I was at the bottom of existence, I thought I would end this miserable life soon. But God had different plans for me and sent Father Leszek, who gave me a helping hand”.

“Something died in me in those years on the streets”, Piekarski said, leaving him today hoping merely for peaceful work, not splendor, should his artistic work become famous:

“I don’t expect to remake the Sistine Chapel,” he said. “I will try to simply live and do my job”.

Follow Paulina Guzik on Twitter: @Guzik_Paulina