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An image of Christ is seen near beds inside the Gift of Mercy shelter for homeless men, just a few hundred yards away from St. Peter's Square. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano, handout)
Pope Francis Visits New Homeless Shelter in Jesuit-Donated Building

October 23, 2015 — Pope Francis made a surprise visit on Oct. 15 to the Vatican’s newest homeless shelter, located in a Jesuit-owned building just outside Vatican City.

The pope met with around 30 homeless men living at the shelter, which opened earlier this month after the building was offered to Pope Francis by the headquarters of the Society of Jesus in Rome.

The Jesuits decided to turn the building, which previously served as a travel agency, into a shelter in response to Pope Francis’ appeal to religious institutions for buildings to be placed in service of those in need. The Papal Office of Charities covered the costs of the restructuring work and furnishings.

The shelter was named “Dono di Misericordia” (meaning "Gift of Mercy”) because it was a gift from the Jesuits and because “mercy is love’s second name, which is expressed through concrete and generous gestures toward others,” according to the Vatican.

Also on hand to greet the pope were Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner or chief alms-giver, whose Papal Office of Charities funded the shelter; Father Adolfo Nicolás, SJ, Superior General of the Jesuits; and the nuns from Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity order who operate the shelter.

Pope Francis spent about 20 minutes with the men and the volunteers who run the shelter, greeting each one and going on a tour of the building.

Archbishop Krajewski inaugurated the shelter on Oct. 7, celebrating Mass for its first guests. The shelter can host 34 people each night, who may stay for a maximum of 30 days due to limited space. Guests arrive each day between 6 and 7 p.m. and are served dinner in the nearby Dono di Maria shelter before going to bed. A wake-up call at 6:15 a.m. allows time for personal hygiene and tidying up before breakfast is served. Then the shelter closes at 8 a.m. for cleaning.

Pope Francis tours the Vatican's newest homeless shelter with Superior General of the Jesuits Father Adolfo Nicolás, SJ, at right. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano, handout)

After the shelter closes for the day, guests can shower and visit the barber at a facility the Vatican set up in February in St. Peter's Square. Various locations around the Vatican offer lunch and dinner, including the Vatican soup kitchen at the nearby “Dono di Maria,” or "Gift of Mary" shelter for women, which is also is staffed by the nuns of the Missionaries of Charity.

Pope Francis has previously shown his generosity toward the homeless by sharing meals, donating sleeping bags and other supplies and inviting a group of homeless people to a private tour of the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. During his recent visit to the U.S., Pope Francis visited a homeless shelter in Washington, where he said there was “no justification whatsoever” for a lack of housing.

[Sources: Catholic News Service, Vatican Insider, Vatican Radio, Rome Reports, Religion News Service]

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