Vatican Corner 06-01-2019

For centuries, charity efforts, both large scale and small, have been part of Catholic tradition. In 2005 Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “Following the example given in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Christian charity is first of all the simple response to immediate needs and specific situations: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for and healing the sick, visiting those in prison, etc.” While the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and Caritas Internationalis, along with its national partners, are responsible for the big Vatican charity projects, the Vatican Almoner of the Office of Papal Charities concentrates on the person-to person aid. Pope Francis selected Cardinal Konrad Krajewski as the Almoner in 2013 and he has transformed that office into a hands-on door to door charitable mission. As a ma’er of fact, that mission is considered so important that the rules allow the Almoner and only a few other top Vatican positions to continue their work when a pope dies. During the period between popes the Almoner continues distributing charity as a sign of the Church’s constant love for the poor. On May 8-9, 2018, Pope Francis sent Cardinal Krajewski to the Greek island of Lesbos to try and promote humanitarian paths for the 70,000 asylum-seekers there. He spent hours with Greek government officials and spent more time in three camps at three small, privately run centers that provide migrants and refugees a place to relax, get new cloths, watch a movie, borrow a book and drink tea or coffee with friends while watching their children in the playground. The Cardinal came with more than $100,000 of charity money for Caritas Hellas, the Greek Catholic charity. He also gave out small containers of nuts and dates, candy for the children and rosaries for the adults, although most were Muslims. He also came with some cash in his pockets which he quietly donated to small charities assisting the refugees. One gift was met with a stunned opened mouth while another brought tears. Cardinal Krajewski did not ask for reports or accounting on how the cash would be spent. He saw people helping people in need, and in Pope Francis’ name gave them funds to do more. Justice for the asylum-seekers is the Vatican’s big long-term goal and the Cardinals’ trip was meant as an example to let the people in the camps know that they are seen from outside as human beings and not just case numbers. Twenty-four hours after returning from Lesbos, Cardinal Krajewski was informed of a serious situation in Rome where 450 people, including 100 children, were living for days in an unused state owned building without electricity or hot water. He said he knew for a long time about the great difficulties of the squatters living in that building. “From the Vatican we sent the ambulance, the doctors, the food.,” he said. The building has “families who have no place to go, people who struggle to survive”. So as a gesture of desperation, he broke a police seal to turn the electricity back on. Krajewshi did not specifically admit to climbing down a manhole to reconnect the power, but he has taken full responsibility. The Cardinal said he “was fully aware of the possible legal consequences, and acting in the conviction that it was necessary to do it for the good of those families.” He said “Should it arrive, I will also pay the fine”. The Vatican’s Secretary of State supports the Cardinal’s actions. Italy’s interior minister said he hoped the Cardinal would pay the overdue electric bill (last paid in 2013), estimated at $337,000, and he would send it to the Cardinal. When utility worker returned to disconnect the power for the second time, they found a note from the Cardinal and left the electricity running. Pope Francis said in 2017: “Drawing near to the poor in our midst will touch our lives. It will remind us of what really counts: to love God and our neighbor. Only this last forever, everything else passes away. What we invest in love remains, the rest vanishes.”