Kristoph, a homeless “resident” in the portico of Via della Conciliazione — where the Holy See Press Office is located –, looks like a child. Yellow cap, blond hair, blue eyes and rubicund face, which reveal immediately his Polish origin. And although Kristoph is 51, he has spent 20 of those years on the street, working “until they caught me.”
Separated, with a 23-year-old son, this gentle, middle-aged man has been occupying his little post very close to Saint Peter’s for about seven months. Yesterday, he and his friends were in a group of 150 homeless that visited the Vatican Museums, invited by the Apostolic Almonry and that, unexpectedly, shook Pope Francis’ hand.
“It is an experience that I will carry within me until the last days of my life,” he said to ZENIT. Today, his little group has done nothing but discuss the extraordinary day they had yesterday. And they talked about it to journalists, through Kristoph, chosen as their spokesman because of his knowledge of Italian, and who gives interviews with great aplomb.
The reason: his good command of the language and his cordiality, which not all those marked by life as he is, have succeeded in maintaining. Also it is because of the joy he savoured yesterday: “I was happy all last night …,” he added.
On the other hand, it does not happen often that one has a private tour of the Vatican Museums, assailed daily by lines of kilometers of tourists; even rare still is it to end the tour in the Sistine Chapel and find oneself before the Pope who says: “Welcome. This is your home!”
Kristoph’s cerulean eyes flash with joy on recalling that instant: “We were so in the museums so long …. They are very, very, very beautiful! At the end we went to the Sistine Chapel and we were told to sit down. We thought there would be a Mass, a prayer, something like that … Instead, from behind the door, Don Corrado came out (almoner Konrad Krajewski,) and close to him, the Pope. My goodness!”
“We applauded very loudly. He greeted us; we thanked him. Then, we recited the ‘Our Father’ together. The Pope even allowed photographs to be taken with us. So many photographs were taken and Don Corrado promised that he would bring them. Then, the Pope greeted each one of us. He shook the hands of all 150, do you realize? My goodness …”
Kristoph was also able to shake the Holy Father’s hand. “I said to him: Thank you, Pope. I wish you so many good things, especially health and strength. He smiled and said ‘Thank you, thank you …”
“Were you moved?” we asked him. “How could I not be,” he answered promptly, adding delightfully, “I also had tears. My friends here also wept, even if now they appear to be hardened … I wept because I know I’m fortunate: not everyone has the possibility to meet the Pope so close, to kiss his hand, to embrace him …”
“I sent a message immediately to my son, who is 23, and lives and works in Poland, and I said to him: “Eric, Dad met the Pope! I wept with happiness … One day I’ll send you the photos!”
“I have too many things to tell, to remember …,” said Kristoph, who revealed that he still had yesterday’s invitation in his pocket because “I want to keep it as a momento…” And he excused himself candidly for not showing it to me because “I’m afraid it will get ruined.”
In fact, yesterday’s visit was such a memorable event that every trace of it is treasured. Above all was the umpteenth confirmation that “Pope Francis loves us.”
“He is doing so much for us: the showers, barbers, umbrellas, museums … I also heard that he wants to prepare a small ambulatory for those who need medical care. We are truly happy about everything,” stressed the “spokesman” of the homeless of Saint Peter’s.
In connection with the showers built in the bathrooms under the Bernini colonnade, always through the initiative of the Almonry, Kristoph commented: “We are fortunate to have them. We can wash every day, and go around decorously. We don’t have to be ashamed of our bad odor.”
And the barber is also a good idea. “I went, in fact, last Monday. Now I will go again because I want my hair to be back to zero. Soon, the heat will begin … Then, I’ll save because I don’t have to buy a comb.”
All these “are really important things for us, they are useful. The Pope understands this. He loves us.” And the gang does not fail to return this affection, perhaps not materially, but with prayer, which, if humble and sincer,e is worth more than a thousand gestures of charity.
“Every morning we say to ourselves ‘let’s pray for Pope Francis,” says our interlocutor. “At 9:00 am, sisters come to us, sometimes a priest, and they make us pray together. And we always pray for the Pope, for his health, because we want him to live many years. In any case, we also pray for all priests and for people … for good people, those who do us good. There are so many …”[Original Text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]