Cardinal-designate Konrad Krajewski has revived an ancient Vatican post
Among the 14 people who will be receiving a red hat on the solemnity of Ss Peter and Paul, there is one who stands out as particularly significant in virtue of the office he holds and in light of the way he has discharged his duties in the five years he has held the office: Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the almoner of His Holiness (the apostolic almoner or papal almoner).
As the name suggests, the papal almoner is responsible for the distribution of charity to the poor and needy. Much of the almoner’s day-to-day work involves quiet disbursements of money to households in acute difficulty: help with things like rent, medicine, groceries and the like to families facing emergencies, widows, the elderly and the poor who have fallen through the cracks.
The papal almoner, in short, is the keeper of the charitable purse of the Bishop of Rome.
In Rome, as in most of the earlyChurch, deacons originally conducted and coordinated the charitable activities of the diocese. deacon – diakonos in Greek – means “servant”, and the service to which the men ordained to the diaconate dedicated themselves were the works of mercy, especially the corporal works of mercy: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned (and ransoming the captive), burying the dead.
The almoner of His Holiness stands in the way of great heroes of the faith, like St Lawrence, deacon and martyr, chief of the seven deacons who were the early clergy of Rome – the original cardinals before there were such things.
The apostolic almoner is therefore an office that has been working in some form since apostolic times, and it is one of the few official commissions within the system of the Roman Curia – those of the Major Penitentiary and the Cardinal-Chamberlain are more well-known – that do not expire upon the death or resignation of the Roman Pontiff.
Pope Leo XIII reorganised the office and gave it a permanent means of funding: the proceeds from the sale of the parchments attesting the apostolic blessing, which people may purchase now directly from the almoner’s office.
Pope Francis appointed the current almoner and Cardinal-designate, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, in 2013 – at the beginning of his pontificate. Archbishop Krajewski has spent most of his time as a cleric – and nearly half his life – in Rome: first as a student at the Sant’Anselmo, where he studied liturgy, and then in the office of the Papal Master of Ceremonies, starting in 1999 and until his appointment in 2013. When Krajewski took the new job, Pope Francis told him: “You can sell your desk. You don’t need it. You need to get out of the Vatican. Don’t wait for people to come ringing. You need to go out and look for the poor.”
By all accounts, Krajewski has done that. In addition to the quiet assistance to the needy that his office has given for hundreds of years, Krajewski has organised and spearheaded several new initiatives: a laundromat and barber shop for the indigent of Rome, as well as a dormitory and shower facilities, are among his accomplishments in behalf of the city’s needy.
When a series of powerful earthquakes struck central Italy between 2016 and 2017, the agricultural and tourist industries that provided wealth to the affected regions and livelihoods to many of the regions’ inhabitants were disrupted. When local farmers began to produce again, they could not get their goods to market, and had lost the customer base that tourism had provided. Krajewski responded with a shopping spree in the region, buying up prosciutto, cheese and other signature regional produce, before donating the goods to Roman soup kitchens.
When the story was picked up by news outlets, including the Catholic Herald, Krajewski’s excursion became a symbol of solidarity in the region.
Archbishop Krajewski has also organised outings for the poor: from trips to the circus, to tours of the Vatican gardens and reserved seats at special concert events, to ice cream treats on Pope Francis’s name day: he has sought – and found – creative ways not only to meet the basic needs of the poorest of the poor, but also to bring a little joy to people who suffer more than their fair share in life.
Just this past week, the office of the almoner announced that the poor, the homeless, refugees, migrants “and the neediest people” have been invited in Pope Francis’s name to Rome’s Olympic Stadium on the afternoon of May 31, to watch the Golden Gala, a major international track and field event.
Asked why he thinks Pope Francis has decided to honour him with the red hat, Archbishop Krajewski told Vatican Media it is for the poor people he seeks to help, “and for all the volunteers, to all those who go out in the evenings”. He added: “Nothing changes, but I think it is a recognition for them because – here, I can think of this: the first cardinals were deacons, then those who served the poor, because the deacons are for the poor.”
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