The pope’s very own Robin Hood

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | April 29, 2016

Papal almoner’s job is not about thieving, but about giving

Did you know that Pope Francis has his own “Robin Hood?”

OK, he doesn’t take from the rich — but he certainly gives to the poor.

CNS PHOTO | L’OSSERVATORE ROMANO, HANDOUT  Pope Francis listens as Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, offers an explanation about laundry during the pope’s visit to a new homeless shelter for men in Rome Oct. 15, 2015. Housed in a Jesuit-owned building, the shelter was created by and is run with funds from the papal almoner.
CNS PHOTO | L’OSSERVATORE ROMANO, HANDOUT
Pope Francis listens as Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, offers an explanation about laundry during the pope’s visit to a new homeless shelter for men in Rome Oct. 15, 2015. Housed in a Jesuit-owned building, the shelter was created by and is run with funds from the papal almoner.

For example, for Easter 2014, he gave out chocolate eggs to children in hospital. This year, on Good Friday, he gave out sleeping bags to homeless people at 100 stations around the city.

He supervised the construction of showers for the homeless in a public restroom facility in Vatican Square that opened a year ago. People using the showers can also get free haircuts and have their clothes laundered. This March, a free medical clinic opened nearby.

In January this year, he arranged for 2,000 homeless people to see a free show the Rony Roller Circus in Rome. Medical staff were also on hand at the event to offer free checkups and medical care.

Also in January, when a homeless Romanian woman gave birth on Jan. 20 in the Piazza Pio XII, just outside St. Peter’s Square, the pope’s Robin Hood immediately went to see her in the hospital and offered her and the child a place to stay at the Vatican-owned shelter for women.

Robin Hood’s real name is Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, a Polish archbishop who, since 2013, has served as the pope’s almoner. On the streets, he is called “Don Corrado.”

Even before taking his present job — and hearing Pope Francis tell him to get rid of his desk and get out in the streets — Don Corrado had already been a Robin Hood. He has worked at the Vatican since the 1990s and was one of the papal masters of ceremonies before his 2013 appointment as almoner.

According to La Stampa newspaper, during those days — and with the help of the Swiss Guards, the Albertine Sisters and the Presentation Sisters who work at the Vatican warehouse — he collected leftover food from the dining hall and canteen — even from the pope’s table some say — and distributed it to the poor in the streets around the Vatican.

The role of “almoner” — coming from a Latin word referring to “alms” — is a post that dates back to the time of the first deacons of the church. The deacons cared for the poor. In ancient monasteries, the almoner was in charge of distributing food and other goods to the poor, as well as to needy travelers.

According to The Encyclopedia Britannica, an almoner was also a position in the royal courts of Europe. For example, in the 13th century, almoners in the French court distributed the royal alms; in 1486, the office of “Grand Almoner of France” was established. This Grand Almoner was a church official who worked with the clergy connected to the royal court. The role was abolished in 1870.

In England, there is still the “Lord High Almoner” who serves Queen Elizabeth. The current High Almoner is Rev. Dr. John Inge, (Anglican) Bishop of Worcester. One of his traditional roles is to distribute the “Royal Maundy,” alms given to the poor in the Queen’s name on Holy Thursday.

The pope’s almoner traces back at least to the 12th century, where the role can be found mentioned in an official document of Pope Innocent III. Pope Gregory X (1271-1276) formalized the duties of the papal almoner. According to the Vatican, the papal almoner holds the rank of archbishop, is “a member of the papal family” and is present at all general audiences and papal masses.

Much of Archbishop Konrad Krajewski’s actions are paid for by contributions given to Pope Francis for the purpose of charitable works.

The main source of actual income for the almoner’s office comes from what is paid by those requesting the document known as “the Papal Blessing on Parchment.”

This blessing is sent to countless people around the world each year in honor of special events such as anniversaries, jubilees and milestone birthdays. The parchment documents bear the almoner’s signature and seal. The blessings cost from 13 to 25 euros ($17 to $23) each, in addition to the cost of postage. It may not sound like a lot of money, but it adds up.

Last year, just as the showers were being completed at the Vatican’s public restrooms, Archbishop Krajewski told journalists that he had a new plan to help raise money of his office’s works of charity. He would like to raffle off excess gifts that are given to Pope Francis each year.

There’s always a need for more funds. In case you were wondering, Pope Francis himself filters the initial requests for help — about 12,000 in 2014 — and then chooses the ones he wants Archbishop Krajewski to look into further. In 2014, that included $250,000 to pay utility bills for poor families.

Msgr. Krajewski told Newsweek/Daily Beast that Pope Francis has told him that “there shouldn’t be any money in the almony’s bank account. He said I shouldn’t hold onto it or invest it, I should spend it. He asks me often if I need more money, and he tells me I have the best job of all.”

The legendary Robin Hood had some close calls and had to live in a forest as an outlaw. Whether or not that was enjoyable in merry, old England is debatable, but the papal Robin Hood seems to enjoy his work in the modern-day Vatican world.

 

Sources: Etymonline.com; vatican.va; Vatican Radio; lastampa.it; thedailybeast.com; Britannica.com; Catholic News Service; Joan’s Rome blog at joansrome.wordpress.com and historylearningsite.co.uk.

 

Related Posts

Scroll to Top