Pope Francis’ almsgiver restores power (illegally) to homeless shelter in Italy

Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, visits the Hope and Peace Center for refugees near the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos May 8, 2019. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, visits the Hope and Peace Center for refugees near the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos May 8, 2019. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

In what he described as a desperate gesture, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the pope’s almoner, climbed down a manhole last Saturday evening, May 11, to restore electric power to a building in Rome occupied by some 450 homeless people, including more than 100 children. They had been without electricity and hot water for almost a week.

The municipal electric company cut off the power supply because the occupants—who had lived in the state-owned property as squatters since 2013—had run up a substantial unpaid electric bill.

Advertisement

Asked if it was true that he personally lifted the manhole cover and climbed down to reconnect the building to the power main, Cardinal Krajewski told the newspaper, Corriere della Sera: “It was a special situation. Desperate. I repeat, I assume all the responsibility."

By reconnecting the building to the power supply and breaking the seals that prevented the building from having power, the papal almoner broke the law. But he was unrepentant, as the Vatican daily, L’Osservatore Romano, made clear this afternoon, noting, “It was a gesture of humanity carried out with an awareness of the possible consequences that he could face, in the conviction that it was necessary to do so for the good of these people.”

“If a fine should arrive, I will pay it,” the paper quoted him as saying.

By reconnecting the building to the power supply and breaking the seals that prevented the building from having power, the papal almoner broke the law. But he was unrepentant.

Once the electricity was cut off, the people were left without light or power to run refrigerators or to heat the water in the large building not far from St. John Lateran’s Basilica and the Church of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. Some of the children were afraid in the dark, and some people fell and hurt themselves.

It was, the 55-year-old Polish priest said, a situation that called for “an act of humanity,” given that the city officials who could have resolved this problem did not work over the weekend, and he could find no one to speak to with the authority to restore power.

[Want to discuss politics with other America readers? Join our Facebook discussion group, moderated by America’s writers and editors.]

“Don Konrad,” as he is popularly known, is the man Pope Francis chose in August 2013 to be his right hand in assisting the poor and vulnerable of Rome. Pope Francis made him a cardinal last year to emphasize that “the poor are a priority in this pontificate.”

The cardinal, who had been back in Rome less than 24 hours after visiting refugees in camps in Greece, knew the conditions in this building well and that people who live there had nowhere else to go. Many are without work and lack money to buy food. All week Cardinal Krajewski had been dispatching food and medical supplies to the building and had even provided an ambulance service.

“I'll pay it. No problem,” the cardinal told the newspaper.

La Repubblica, one of Italy’s main newspapers, labeled him “the Robin Hood of the Pope” on its front page on May 13, but Matteo Salvini, the deputy prime minister of Italy and the vice premier and leader of the xenophobic Northern League, did not share that view. He declared, “Supporting illegal behavior is never a good signal [to give people].”

Mr. Salvini said many Italians “also in difficulty” pay their bills. He told a crowd at a political rally on May 12 that the occupants of the building owed the electric company 300,000 euros (about $337,000), and he would be sending the cardinal the bill. As minister of the interior, Mr. Salvani has closed Italian ports to Middle Eastern and African migrants fleeing conflict and poverty from Libya.

The pope’s alms-giver said he would pay for the electricity for the squatting families until the situation stabilizes, but he emphasized that “money is not the first problem. There are children here, and the first question is: ‘Why are they in this situation?’”

The usually low-profile papal almoner had no regrets. “I accept full responsibility. If they fine me, I will pay. And I do not need to give explanations, as there’s little to say.” He noted that the last time there had been an electric blackout in Rome “it was a drama,” comparing it to this situation where 500 people, including 100 children, were without electricity for six days.

“We’re talking about human lives,” he said.

He noted that this is not the only dramatic situation in modern-day Rome in which residents go without a home, without work, sometimes even without food. “Where have human rights ended in Europe? Try going without electricity in your home for some hours,” he told Corriere della Sera.

At the pope’s request, Cardinal Krajewski reaches out to the poor in many ways every day, providing food, clothing, sleeping bags and medicine to them. He has undertaken many creative initiatives, too, with the pope’s full backing, like installing showers and barber’s services for the homeless people right under the window in the Vatican palace where the pope gives his Sunday greeting and recites the Angelus. He has also installed a medical service free of charge for the poor, and last week he went down to Lesbos to help migrants on that Greek island.

These acts in favor of the poor gain much approval from people but have also provoked a negative reaction from a small but vocal political minority who look to Mr. Salvini as their leader and who last Sunday staged a small protest near St. Peter’s Square.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
FRAN ABBOTT
5 months 1 week ago

BRAVO Cardinal Krajewski!!!

Christopher Lochner
5 months 1 week ago

This is why I continue to experience grave difficulties with some of the reporting on this site. 1) Did he go down into the manhole? Evasive answer. No follow up. Darn good story, eh? Truth is irrelevant. 2) He couldn't find anyone to help over the weekend. As this situation began days before, then he could not wait until Monday? Anyone who has had the power turned off usually has to wait (as in most of the known world). 3) Back fees of $300,000 euros are owed, but wait, a known xenophobe is claiming this so this is, what, true or not? And now anyone who might question the point is lumped in with the far right which is a nice if not intellectually dishonest debating trick. Are monies owed? He claims money is not the issue so it must be a substantial amount! 4) Peter's Pence money unavailable? Wait. They are not in a caravan so, no! 5) Medical service free of charge provided. World Health Organization considers Italian medical care to be second best in the world. National health care is already provided so why are more services needed? Ambulance service is already available so, what, the Cardinal made a phone call??.... This sounds like yet another public relation junket by the Vatican....And the leadership wonders why the Faithful are distrustful! And I question the "...much approval of the people ." statement. Probably not but this all makes for great theater and this is what reality has become.

Robin Smith
5 months 1 week ago

He could have just paid the bill and some time forward. But, then would not have gotten this much publicity.

Gail Bederman
5 months 1 week ago

Christopher Lochner, the answers to your most of your questions are actually relatively easy to find. 1) Did he himself go into the manhole? Reuters, BBC, CNN and USA Today all report he did. CNN reports, "Cardinal Krajewski confirmed to CNN he did switch the grid back on himself." 2. As reported above, he had spent the previous week in Greece; and the power was cut on May 6. He returned to Rome; was informed about situation; and fixed it. 3. Xenophobe refers to Mr. Salvini, who apparently embraces this characteristic. 4. Irrelevant. Also, the above-referenced articles say that Cardinal Krajewski does plan to pay the back electric bills. Apparently Italians are not used to living for a week without electricity and hot water, so he didn't want to wait any longer. 5. Irrelevant. 6. P.S. This sort of thing makes me especially proud to be Catholic!

Will Nier
5 months 1 week ago

Sorry he was wrong to do this. He could have electrocuted himself. In terms of power being re installed if anything was wrong with wiring he could have cause a massive fire. Why not just pay the bill himself. Also why were these people even allowed to live there since 2013. Why no jobs? Where was social services?

Robert Woodman
5 months 1 week ago

St. Paul the Apostle taught as a principle of Christian belief and practice that we must not do evil even though good will come of it (see, for example, Romans 3). St. James said that a person who keeps the whole law except for one point has broken all of the law (James 2:10). While my sympathies are with the homeless refugees, I am astonished that the Cardinal found it necessary to break the law in order to restore electricity. Are there no generators in Rome that could be used? Did he ask for volunteers to help find legal ways to correct this situation? Did he look for any legal means to correct the problem, or did he just act? This is a bad example.

Making the poor a priority does not permit breaking a just law.

Michael Sheridan
5 months 1 week ago

God Bless Don Konrad! Whilst the poor are always with us it is no excuse for inactivity. If there is poverty in the USA, and I know that there is, and there are people sleeping on the streets of San Francisco and Seattle, what are the local authorities doing about it? A wealthy Country like the USA should be doing all it can to help the poor and helpless but then as far as your Potus is concerned it is the rich who are the needy. Misplaced or what? It is extraordinary the number of people who choose to be so negative in their posts here. Why bother reading "America" if you lack basic Christian tenets?

FRAN ABBOTT
5 months 1 week ago

I too am disheartened by the negative posts, but I don’t believe they (at least many of them) come from real America readers. I believe that, rather than to debate issues, the intention of these people is to distress, disrupt and divide.

Vincent Gaglione
5 months 1 week ago

May I suggest that many of the people who write some of the diatribes on a variety of issues on this site are in fact not Christian? They are baptized, maybe they go to church, maybe they observe all the commandments and the “laws,” but they do not see Christ in every human being nor act like Christ toward every human being. They do not seek to live and teach by example but by regulation and law and compulsion. That is why Francis is a threat to them, that is why those who live and think and believe differently are a threat to them, and ultimately that is why Christ is a threat to them. Amazingly Christ was patient, kind, and open to those who were different and sinners, and condemnatory to those who presumed to be observant.

For example, we are the richest nation on earth. We spend huge amounts of tax dollars on weapons and the military, enough so that $1.5 billion of it can be diverted to build a wall. It is enough to keep every person in this nation in food and decent housing, and there is no Christian voice raised loudly and insistently, not even by our Bishops’ conference, in protest. I fear for all of us, including myself, the last judgment!

James M.
5 months ago

Yet again, the Roman Church shows its contempt for secular law :(

[Explore America’s in-depth coverage of Pope Francis.]

Advertisement

The latest from america

The connection between the Amazon region and the church in the United States runs deeper than it might first appear.
Kevin JacksonOctober 22, 2019
A fire burns a tract of Amazon jungle on Sept. 2, 2019, as it is cleared by a farmer in Machadinho do Oeste, Brazil. The Brazilian Catholic bishops are pressuring the government to guarantee the safety of several Amazonian indigenous peoples. (CNS photo/Ricardo Moraes, Reuters)
Rainforests are not the only things under threat in the Amazon region. There has also been an uptick in violence against native peoples: land invasions, illegal exploitation of natural resources and damage caused by invaders of indigenous lands went from 96 in 2017 to 109 in 2018.
Eduardo Campos LimaOctober 22, 2019
photo from iStock by RedEye
While climbing down off a freight train in western Texas, I committed to giving my life to God.
Andrew Robert LaBarreOctober 22, 2019
Truth and beauty can be found outside the walls of church, in a space that belongs to those who worship differently.
Jordan Denari DuffnerOctober 22, 2019