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Pope ramps up charity office to be near needy, sick

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VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has ramped up the Vatican’s charity work, sending his chief almsgiver and a contingent of Swiss guards onto the streets of Rome at night to do what he usually can’t do: comfort the poor and the homeless.

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A few times a week, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski takes a few offduty guards with him in his modest white Fiat to make the rounds at Rome’s train stations, where charities offer makeshift soup kitchens that feed 400-500 people a night. Often they bring the leftovers from the Vatican mess halls to share.

“Aside from their vitality, they know at least four languages,” Krajewski said of the guards in an interview Friday with The Associated Press. “Above all, poor people need to be listened to.”

“And when we say we’re from the Vatican, and that we’re doing this in the name of the Holy Father,” he said, “their hearts open up more.”

Krajewski is the Vatican Almoner, a centuries-old position that Francis has redefined to make it a hands-on extension of his own personal charity. When he was archbishop in Buenos Aires, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio used to go out at night, incognito, to break bread with the homeless on the streets of the Argentine capital to let them know that someone cared for them.

He can’t do that so easily now that he’s pope, so he has tapped Krajewski to be his envoy, doling out small morsels of charity every day: sending a 200 euro ($260) check to a woman whose wallet was stolen, visiting a family whose child is dying.

“My job is to be an extension of the pope’s arm toward the poor, the needy, those who suffer,” Krajewski said. “He cannot go out of the Vatican, so he has chosen a person who goes out to hug the people who suffer” in the pope’s place.

Larger and longer-term charity works are handled by the Vatican’s international charity federation. The almoner, Krajewski explained, is more a “first aid” compassion station: quick, small doses of help that don’t require bureaucratic hurdles, but are nevertheless heartfelt and something of a sacrifice.

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