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Cardinal Krajewski: We must give greater care for those sleeping on streets

  • Religion

The papal almoner remembers Burkhard Scheffler, a homeless man who died in the colonnade area of St. Peter’s Square. He tells us about the Vatican and the city of Rome’s charitable services for the poor, saying “my role is to empty the Holy Father’s charitable account” in helping them.

By Amedeo Lomonaco

The 61-year-old homeless man, Burkhard Scheffler, died seeking shelter under the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square, with the cold weather contributing to his death. He was one of the many poor helped by the Dicastery for the Service of Charity. He had been offered a warm place to sleep, but refused the gesture, choosing instead to stay on the streets. Pope Francis offered his prayers for him and for all those without a home. 

Vatican News spoke with the papal almoner, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, prefect of the Dicastery for the Service of Charity, about the sad incident and the work that he and others carry out every day.

Remembering Burkhard

Burkhard Scheffler was born in 1961 in Germany. Cardinal Krajewski recalled that he, along with many poor people in the area around St. Peter’s, received daily food, hot meals, and visits from volunteers. The services provided by the Vatican and Rome’s charitable outreach also include dormitories, shower and bathroom facilities, and medical assistance. The colder temperatures and rain in Rome in recent days aggravated Burkhard’s already delicate health conditions.

Interview with Cardinal Konrad Krajewski:

Cardinal Krajewski, yesterday a poor man died under the Bernini colonnade of St. Peter’s. Pope Francis remembered him in prayer, as well as all those who are forced to live without a home. 

Yesterday I was in Assisi when I received a call right after they found him. I knew him. In Assisi I prayed for him; I also spoke with the Holy Father. However, this case cannot overshadow all the goodness of the city. I was very sorry, but it was his choice and we could do nothing more: in fact, even the night before, before he went to sleep, volunteers visited with him to offer all the help we could on our part. The doctors told us that he was diabetic …

We often saw this person with a book in his hand, intent on reading …

That’s right. Yes, he was well known to us …

From the Pope and the offices of Vatican City, concrete aid and daily assistance arrive every day for these people, those who are homeless…

In the name of the Holy Father, we help all the poor, without asking for documents, without asking for anything. We take them into our facilities, the Vatican facilities. There are several [such facilities], beginning with Palazzo Migliori, from Via dei Penitenzieri, to the Sisters of Mother Teresa in the Vatican… We also have the clinic in the colonnade area, where about 1,050 poor people are served every month, the majority of whom are homeless; all these people are visited by doctors, all of them receive medicine… There were 1,050 people in the month of October. And this happens almost every month.

A charitable service in the light of the Gospel…

There are showers, there are barbers, there is a whole array of services… Then, in Rome, no one dies of hunger if they don’t want to, because there are so many parish canteens, those of Caritas, Sant’Egidio, Misericordie… So, the service for the poor is totally evangelical. But there are also those people who do not want to be cared for, who do not want to be accommodated in our facilities. People are free… and so they live like that. We can only help if they allow us to help them.

And then, in addition to the facilities, there are the people who offer help, the volunteers…

Here in the evening our volunteers go out with sleeping bags, they go out with hot drinks, there are places too, and we offer them to everyone. And we offer everyone a shower, a barber shop, we offer to go to the doctor to get the medicine they need… But not everyone wants it. I know of no other city in the world, but at least in Europe, where there are so many volunteers and they go out every night to all the train stations, to all the places where there are poor people. I know because I go out with them. And we know these people. Among them are people who, apart from a meal, want nothing. They hide and live on their own.

What, specifically, is needed for these homeless people, especially at this time when the temperatures are getting colder?

They need sleeping bags now, not only for the cold, but also when it rains. They wake up drenched and we have to provide another sleeping bag, because where can they dry the wet one out? They need umbrellas when it rains. All the umbrellas that tourists forget at the Vatican Museums and do not come back to retrieve after a week, we then give to the poor. There are thousands of umbrellas that we have recovered and have available! But it also takes the goodwill of each one of us: when we see a person in the street, we bring some tea, something warm, we can even open the door of a building to let them in and at least let them stay a little sheltered… These are very simple things, because even if the temperatures in this period do not drop if someone is diabetic if someone is not treated, the circumstances of today’s weather push them towards death.

For many poor people who have no home, Bernini’s colonnade offers a roof over their head…

Let us look at today’s situation, for example. The weather is unsettled. Here we have in front of the showers, 250 people at least, with all their luggage, their suitcases… The police do not allow them to enter St Peter’s Square with their suitcases and bags, but they can come and stand under the colonnade, because the weather is like this: where else can they go? We help as we can, and in the midst of all this there is the Gospel, there is Pope Francis, there is the almsgiver, there are thousands and thousands of Roman volunteers who have extraordinary hearts!

Faced with the difficulties of a poor person, of a brother or sister who has no home, one cannot remain indifferent…

It must always hurt us when we see people sleeping outside: we must have tears; if they are not there, then there is something wrong with us…

For these poor people, as you said, there are also health care services…

Under the colonnade, we have 50 doctors who come from the various hospitals in Rome: there are department head doctors and doctors of all different specializations. And Pope Francis, from the beginning of his pontificate, wanted us to never ask for documents or nationality: we are not interested. In October we spent 22,000 euros on medicines alone: but it is money spent following the Gospel. Even if we have to spend more, we will. And our poor, with a prescription from the outpatient clinic, go to the Vatican pharmacy, and there they get their medicines without paying: everything is free.

What is the distinguishing feature of your role as an almsgiver?

My role is to empty the Holy Father’s charity account: the Holy Father’s charity account must be empty. And I make every effort to empty it…

Source: Vatican News