VATICAN CITY – Rome’s homeless are about to get some TLC.
The Vatican is finishing renovations on public restrooms just off St. Peter’s Square that will include three showers and a barbershop for the homeless.
Each “homeless pilgrim,” as the Vatican said Friday, will get a kit that includes a towel, change of underwear, soap, deodorant, toothpaste, razor and shaving cream.
The showers will be open every day except Wednesday, when the piazza is full for the pope’s general audience. Haircuts will be available Mondays.
Barbers volunteering on their days off — Rome’s barbershops are closed Mondays — as well as students from a local beauty school will be donating their time, as well as some sisters from religious orders and other volunteers.
The bathrooms were made with high-tech, easy-to-clean materials to ensure proper hygiene, the Vatican said.
Francis’ chief almsgiver, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, has said the project is necessary since homeless are often shunned for their appearance and smell. The initiative is being funded by donations and sales of papal parchments sold by Krajewski’s office.
Francis has stepped up the role of the Vatican “elemosiniere” as part of his insistence that the church should look out for the poorest.
When Krajewski was appointed, the pope urged him not to stay at his desk, but to be an active worker on behalf of the poor.
In addition to small acts of charity, Krajewski’s office handed out 400 sleeping bags to the homeless over Christmas and distributed 1,600 phone cards to new migrants on the island of Lampedusa.
This month, the Vatican gave away some 300 umbrellas that had been left behind at the Vatican museums to help the homeless cope with days of heavy rain in the capital. The umbrellas were distributed near the Vatican and in other parts of Rome.
The Catholic News Agency reported that Krajewski received his inspiration for the showers after taking a homeless man to dinner to celebrate the man’s 50th birthday.
The man told the archbishop that finding food in the city is easy, but staying clean is not. The difficulty that homeless people face in washing themselves, Krajewski said, can cause them to fear rejection.
Another reason for offering showers and haircuts is to promote health and help reduce the risk of disease, he added.
Among the barbers who volunteered to give haircuts were two from the national Italian organization that transports the sick to Lourdes, France, and other shrines.