Pope treats homeless of Rome to day at the beach
Pope Francis has dug into Vatican funds to provide a day at the seaside to those who normally cannot afford it - the homeless.
The initiative comes as millions of Italians flocked to the coast yesterday for the annual Ferragosto holiday, which has its origins in ancient Roman times and is regarded as the high point of the long summer break.
The Pope has instructed his chief alms-giver, a Polish priest, to take groups of homeless people who normally live rough around the Vatican on day trips to beach resorts that lie a few miles west of the capital.
The Holy See provides towels and swimming costumes and the day ends with a meal in a pizzeria - also paid for by the Vatican.
The groups are driven to a beach near Fregene, about 30km outside Rome. There they swim, sunbathe, feel the sand between their toes and then head to the pizzeria.
The groups of homeless do not go unnoticed by other sunbathers, according to the alms-giver, Monsignor Konrad Krajewski.
"People who live on the street have tanned, weather-beaten faces because of the sun, but their bodies are as white as milk," he told 'La Stampa' newspaper. Around 100 homeless people have been taken on the day trips.
The day at the seaside is the latest of several papal initiatives to give succour to the homeless in Rome. Over the past year, the Pope has ordered that free showers be installed in a public lavatory block on the edge of St Peter's Square, beneath the great stone colonnades that embrace the piazza.
He has also arranged for local barbers to give homeless people free haircuts. Together with soldiers from the Swiss Guard and officers from the Vatican Gendarmerie, Monsignor Krajewski delivers hot meals to people living rough around Rome's railway stations.
"We're certainly not saving the world with some of these initiatives and we're not solving all the problems of the homeless in Rome. But at least we are restoring to them a bit of dignity," he said.
Meanwhile, Catholic pilgrims from around the world, many sick or disabled, converged on a shrine in the French town of Lourdes yesterday under exceptional security following recent extremist attacks.
Soldiers and police patrolled the railway station and town centre and inside the sanctuary at Lourdes, where a 19th century village girl said she had visions of the Virgin Mary. (© Daily Telegraph, London)