The pope’s almoner is the person who distributes funds to charitable causes on behalf of the Holy Father. In 2013, Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Konrad Krajewski to be the papal almoner. His duties include raising funds for the projects.
When appointing the cardinal to the little-known office of almoner, Pope Francis said he wanted to change the way the office functioned. He told the cardinal, “You can sell your desk. You don’t need it. You need to get out of the Vatican. Don’t wait for people to come ringing. You need to go out and look for the poor.”
Various news sources have reported on the activities of the almoner. With his mandate from the pope, the cardinal has visited homes for the elderly and distributed funds to those in need. He spent four days on the island of Lampedusa after a boat carrying migrants capsized. The cardinal prayed with police divers who were searching for the dead on the sea floor.
When power and hot water had been shut off to a building housing 450 squatters, including over 100 children, the cardinal climbed down a manhole in a Rome street to break a seal and switch back on the electrical supply. The community had been without power and hot water for five days. When criticized by the deputy prime minister of Italy, Cardinal Krajewski said, “From now on…I’ll pay the bills; indeed, I will even pay his (the minister’s bills).”
Palace of the Best
So, when the Palazzo Migliori, a four-story elegant home became available to the Vatican, Pope Francis turned to Cardinal Krajewski and asked him to renovate the home and make it a welcoming shelter for homeless people.
The palazzo had been donated to the Vatican in 1930, and a community of nuns had been using it to provide a place for single mothers. When the nuns relocated, the palazzo became available for use by the Vatican. It is adjacent to St. Peter’s Square.
Cardinal Krajewski renovated the home in a month. He said, “I asked a construction company to let the homeless workers do the renovation. They agreed a bit hesitantly, but then they were so happy with their work [that] they decided to hire those people; the owners of the company said they rarely see people who would work so hard.”
The cardinal decided to keep the original name for the shelter, Palazzo Migliori (Palace of the Best). The palace was to be a home for “nobles of the streets.”
Most shelters for the homeless are quite simple. This four-story home has elegant features, including tiles on the floors, frescoes on the walls, and carved wooden ceilings. Cardinal Krajewski is particularly proud of the spacious chapel. The home has a terrace with a beautiful view of St. Peter’s Square and the Basilica.
The two top floors can house 50 men and women in 16 rooms, with two or three beds in each room. There are 13 new bathrooms each equipped with a shower. The Holiday Inn chain provided the beds. Someone donated an elevator.
The lower levels provide social support including space for reading, recreation, computer classes, psychological counseling, and medical assistance. Guests are not given a deadline to leave.
Volunteers from Sant’Egidio, a lay Catholic movement, run the homeless shelter. They prepare two hot meals each day for the residents. Twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, they also prepare meals for over 250 homeless and needy people at Rome’s train stations.
On Nov. 22, 2019, Pope Francis came to inaugurate the “Palace of the Poor.” He shared a meal with the community. As he toured the building and saw the elegance of the place, he said, “Beauty heals!”
Carlo Santoro, the director of the home, says the homeless can count on the palazzo as a haven. “The beauty of this house is very useful for them just to recuperate. So that is our first aim, just to help them,” he said. “In many cases, we feel like the family they have [that] they’ve been missing for a long time.”
Cardinal Krajewski says the poor need to be helped in a “rich and generous way.” Referring to the Casa Migliori, he said, “You could have a six-star hotel here, 600 Euros a night. Isn’t it great that this place was given to homeless people?”
The papal almoner enthusiastically shares the vision of Pope Francis to have “a poor church for the poor.”