Pope Francis has turned a spectacular 19th century palace next to the Vatican into a shelter for the homeless.
The Palazzo Migliori was set to be turned into a luxury hotel after it became vacant last year and could have charged top rates with its prime location just off St Peter’s Square.
But on the Pope’s orders, it has opened its doors to the homeless as a place where they can ‘sleep, eat and learn’ and has been dubbed ‘A Palace for the Poor’.
The palace was blessed by the Pope on Friday, just ahead of World Day of the Poor.
The palace had previously been the headquarters of the Calasanziane religious order, which provides help and care for single mothers, but they moved to new premises last year after occupying the building for 70 years.
The four-storey palace was first acquired by the Church in the 1930s and still carries the name of the Roman family who built it in the 1800s.
The palace’s new residents are settling in well and are full of praise for their new home. Around 50 homeless men and women now occupy its 16 dormitories.
‘This place feels more like home. I have my own bed, room and bathroom,’ Mario Brezza, 53, told NBC News. ‘It’s so different from the dormitories I have tried until now, where sometimes you feel like an animal in a crowded stable.’
Mr Brezza, who had his leg amputated because of a ‘serious circulatory disease’ lives on a £230 monthly disability allowance.
Sharon Christner, 23, is one of the volunteers working at the shelter. She travelled from Pennsylvania as part of a research project on homelessness and social issues.
‘Even if they wanted to use it for charity, a lot of people would have rented this place out, make a lot of money and give it to the poor,’ Ms Christner said.
‘But what is special about this place is that it’s not about maximizing dollar signs, but giving people a really beautiful place to be, with the idea that beauty heals.’
Carlo Santoro, a member of the Sant’Egidio Community, a lay catholic association in charge of many charitable projects linked to the Vatican, including Palazzo Migliori, said the place was a ‘real paradox.’
‘It is a beautiful palace next to St. Peter’s Square and Basilica, and yet it’s home to those who until recently did not have a house to go to,’ he added.
In 2016, Pope Francis held a special mass just for homeless people in which he criticised the world’s treatment of the poorest in society.
He said: ‘It is ominous that we are growing used to this rejection.
‘We should be worried when our consciences are anaesthetised and we no longer see the brother or sister suffering at our side, or notice the grave problems in the world, which become a mere refrain familiar from the headlines on the evening news.’