VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has rounded out the bureau which delivers charity to the poor in the name of the Holy Father with the Oct. 12 appointment of Msgr. Diego Ravelli as office chief of the Office of Papal Charities.
He had already appointed Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, a priest of the Diocese of Lódz, Poland, to lead the charitable office as the papal almoner.
Traditionally, the papal almoner sends parchments with the papal blessing to those who request them, and with the proceeds, as well as with other offerings, he sends a “modest donation” to those in need. The papal almoner also accompanies the Pope at official appearances and during international trips.
But under Pope Francis, Archbishop Krajewski's role is about to change.
Since both Archbishop Krajewski and Msgr. Ravelli have been part of the office of the papal master of ceremonies, it appears that Pope Francis wishes to mark his pontificate with a sort of “liturgy of the poor.”
Archbishop Krajewski recounted to L'Osservatore Romano Oct. 4 that Pope Francis immediately explained to him the way he wanted to re-design his office.
“You will not stay behind a desk signing parchments,” the Holy Father told the archbishop. “I want you always among the people. In Buenos Aires, I often went out in the evening to go find the poor. Now, I no longer can: It is difficult for me to leave the Vatican. You will do it for me.”
Through Archbishop Krajewski, Pope Francis has already sent a $270 check to an old woman from Marghera, in northern Italy, who had been robbed of the wallet containing only $73.
Pope Francis also sent his almoner to buy international phone cards to be delivered to the refugees who survived the Oct. 3 shipwreck in Lampedusa, so that they might get in touch with their families.
Archbishop Krajewski was at Lampedusa four days later, saying Mass, blessing the corpses of those who died and praying the Rosary together with Archbishop Francesco Montenegro of Agrigento and Father Stefano Nastasi, Lampedusa's parish priest.
Following that, the archbishop visited the survivors, giving them consolation from the Pope, as well as financial aid and the phone cards.
Archbishop Krajewski's activism is something new to the Office of Papal Charities.
Archbishop Guido Pozzo, who was papal almoner until Archbishop Krajewski's appointment, told L’Osservatore Romano Dec. 29 that in 2011 his office had delivered some $1.2 million in response to 7,000 requests for aid.
He explained that “the almoners' donations are of modest amount, in order to extend the aid we can give to the biggest number of people.” He also stressed that anyone's “request for financial aid must come together with a written acknowledgment of their parish priest.”
In accord with Pope Francis' mind, however, Archbishop Krajewski will not be waiting for parish priests' written acknowledgments.
He told L'Osservatore Romano that “if, for example, our office gets a request for aid to pay an electricity bill, I would go to visit that family and see with my very eyes what their conditions are.”