Krajewski gets his marching orders each morning: A Vatican gendarme goes from the Vatican hotel where Francis lives to Krajewski’s office across the Vatican gardens, bringing a bundle of letters that the pope has received from the faithful asking for help. On the top of each letter, Francis might write “You know what to do” or “Go find them” or “Go talk to them.”
And so Don Corrado, as he likes to be called, hits the streets of Rome and beyond.
He visits homes for the elderly in the name of the pope, writes checks to the needy in the name of the pope — even traveled to the island of Lampedusa in the name of the pope after a migrant boat capsized last month, killing more than 350 people.
Over four days on Lampedusa, Krajewski bought 1,600 phone cards so the survivors could call loved ones back home in Eritrea to let them know they had made it. He also prayed with police divers as they worked to raise the dead from the sea floor.
I had two people offer me their “thoughts and prayers” last weekend, after discussion of an ailing relative. One I wanted to punch. The other one I wanted to hug. Know what the difference was? The first one was eager to throw the phrase at me and flitter off, having done her job. The second took the time to listen, ask questions that were probing but not inapporopriate, and suggest actual courses of action before resorting to “yeah, gonna put some love up there for ya on the ol’ Facebook wall” as well.
I hate platitudes so much. I come down firmly on the side of baking a pie instead. It won’t fix anything either really, but at least then the person you are trying to help will have a pie.
I don’t know when we started thinking of “prayer” as words instead of actions, as standing there singing a hymn instead of buying a bunch of phone cards and handing them out. As two separate choices instead of the same thing. I don’t know when we started thinking that prayer wasn’t the pie, that love wasn’t action, that work wasn’t worship. I don’t know when it became an either-or in the church, any church, or when passivity became an option. Maybe it’s money, or how generally busy doing nothing everybody gets sometimes, or the anti-activist apathy that has taken over just about every public institution including many churches, but it’s nonsense, and it’s nice to see it being challenged from within.
Larger and longer-term charity works are handled by the Vatican’s international Caritas federation or Cor Unum, a Vatican office. The almoner, Krajewski explained, is more a “first aid” charity station: quick, small doses of help that don’t require bureaucratic hurdles, but are nevertheless heartfelt and something of a sacrifice.
“Being an almoner, it has to cost me something so that it can change me,” he said. He contrasted such alms-giving with, say, the unnamed cardinal who once boasted about always giving two euros to a beggar on the street near the Vatican.
“I told him, ‘Eminence, this isn’t being an almoner. You might be able to sleep at night, but being an almoner has to cost you. Two euros is nothing for you. Take this poor person, bring him to your big apartment that has three bathrooms, let him take a shower — and your bathroom will stink for three days — and while he’s showering make him a coffee and serve it to him, and maybe give him your sweater. This is being an almoner.”
That’ll leave a mark. Maybe somebody can pray for him.