Pope boosts charity office to be near poor, sick

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VATICAN CITY -- When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis was known to sneak out at night and break bread with the homeless, sit with them literally on the street and eat with them, as part of his aim to share the plight of the poor and let them know someone cared.

That's not so easy to do now that he's pope. But Pope Francis is still providing one-on-one doses of emergency assistance to the poor, sick and aged through a trusted archbishop. Konrad Krajewski is the Vatican Almoner, a centuries-old job of handing out alms -- and Pope Francis has ramped up the job to make it a hands-on extension of his own personal charity.

As Americans gathered for Thanksgiving on Thursday, Bishop Krajewski described how Pope Francis has redefined the little-known office of papal almoner.

"The Holy Father told me at the beginning: '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,' " Bishop Krajewski said.

Bishop Krajewski gets his marching orders each morning: A Vatican gendarme goes from the Vatican hotel where Pope Francis lives to Bishop Krajewski's office across the Vatican gardens, bringing a bundle of letters that the pope has received from the faithful asking for help. On the top of each letter, Pope Francis might write "You know what to do" or "Go find them" or "Go talk to them."

And so Don Corrado, as he likes to be called, hits the streets of Rome and beyond.

He visits homes for the elderly in the name of the pope, writes checks to the needy in the name of the pope -- even traveled to the island of Lampedusa in the name of the pope after a migrant boat capsized last month, killing more than 350 people.

Over four days on Lampedusa, Bishop Krajewski bought 1,600 phone cards so the survivors could call loved ones back home in Eritrea, a country in the Horn of Africa, to let them know they had made it. He also prayed with police divers as they worked to raise the dead from the sea floor.

"This is the concept: Be with people and share their lives, even for 15, 30 minutes, an hour," Bishop Krajewski said.


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