The Vatican has commissioned showers to be installed at public restrooms in St. Peter’s Square for the city’s homeless to use, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, said Thursday. The facilities will require volunteers and donations of soap, towels and clean underwear.
"We have to be evangelical, but intelligent, too," Krajewski told Catholic News Service.
The new bathrooms belong to an already-approved project to renovate the public restrooms at St. Peter’s Square set to begin Nov. 17. Krajewski said there will be three shower stalls located just behind the Vatican’s post office.
The idea for the showers stemmed from a conversation the bishop had in October with a homeless man, known as Franco. When Krajewski learned it was the man's 50th birthday, he invited him out for dinner. But the homeless man declined, saying the restaurant wouldn't let him enter because of his "smell."
“I took him with me nonetheless. We went to a Chinese restaurant. During dinner, he explained to me that you can always find some food in Rome. What is missing is places to wash,” Krajewski said.
Barbara, a Polish woman who lives in a tent with her teenage son and a companion, told CNS that showers in the Vatican's public restrooms "would be good.” The homeless seeking showers at existing facilities have to arrive at the shelter by 4 a.m. to sign in. “Then only 15 people get in each day,” she said.
Pope Francis, called the "People's Pope" by Time magazine, which named him its Person of the Year for 2013, has made alleviating global poverty a priority. Since his election to the papacy last year, Francis has been outspoken about the church’s need to focus on helping the "poor and marginalized." He has refused to live in the luxurious papal apartments, washed the feet of inmates on Holy Thursday and paid his own hotel bill the day after he was elected to the church’s highest office. Most recently, Francis wrote to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott ahead of the G-20 summit, telling world leaders to “not to forget” the less fortunate.
While Krajewski thought food was the primary need for the city’s homeless, he has now shifted gears to building these new showers. He purposely decided against any fundraisers saying, “In the Gospel, Jesus always uses the word ‘today’ … And it is today that we must respond to people’s needs.”