Pope ramps up charity office to be nearer to poor, sick

By Nicole Winfield

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Nov. 29 2013 1:48 p.m. MST

Moments after they met, the pope headed out to St. Peter's Square for his weekly general audience. He started off by asking the tens of thousands of people there to take a moment of silence to pray for little Noemi.

"It was a very emotional meeting because Pope Francis was close to Noemi," her father, Andrea Sciarretta, said afterward. "We could talk and pray together for Noemi. It was an emotional gift."

The existence of the Vatican Almoner dates back centuries: It is mentioned in a papal bull from the 13th-century Pope Innocent III, and Pope Gregory X, who ruled from 1271-1276, organized it into an official Holy See office for papal charity.

Until Krajewski came along, the almoner was typically an aging Vatican diplomat who was serving his final years before being allowed to retire at age 75. Francis changed all that, tapping the 50-year-old Pole who had been a close assistant to Pope John Paul II in his final years, to be a more vigorous, hands-on extension of himself.

The almoner's duties are two-fold: carrying out acts of charity and raising the money to fund them.

Krajewski's office funds its work by producing papal parchments, hand-made certificates with a photo of the pope that the faithful can buy for a particular occasion — say a wedding, baptism or priestly ordination — with the name of the recipient and an apostolic blessing written in calligraphy.

The parchments range from six euros ($8) to 30 euros ($40) apiece, plus shipping and handling. All proceeds go directly to the works of charity. Last year, the office spent 1 million euros on 6,500 requests for help. Krajewski says the numbers have more than doubled this year.

But Krajewski's chief role, under Francis' new vision, is to bring direct solace to the suffering.

Last month, Krajewski went to the island of Lampedusa after a migrant boat capsized, killing over 350 people. Over four days on Lampedusa, Krajewski bought 1,600 phone cards so the survivors could call loved ones back home in Eritrea 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," Krajewski said.

Krajewski demurred when asked if Francis himself had slipped out of the Vatican on his own — "Next question!" he said.

Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield

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