Pope Francis meets homeless on private visit to Sistine Chapel

Thu Mar 26, 2015 4:10pm EDT
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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis made a surprise personal visit to 150 homeless people on a special tour of the Sistine Chapel on Thursday, in the latest nod to his vision of creating a church for the poor.

Francis greeted the visitors in the chapel where he was elected pope during a private viewing of its ceiling frescoes painted by Michelangelo more than 500 years ago.

"This is everyone's house, it is your house," Francis said, according to a statement from the Vatican spokesman about the event at which no reporters, photographers or cameraman were allowed.

Francis was known as "the slum bishop" in his native Buenos Aires for his frequent visits to shanty towns. Since taking over as the head of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, he has made concern for the poor a central plank of his papacy.

The visitors are due to tour and have dinner in the Vatican museums, which attract about six million people a year paying at least 16 euros ($17) each. They will leave through an entrance usually reserved for prelates and employees.

The Vatican said it was giving the 150 homeless, who usually frequent the area around St. Peter's Basilica, a chance to admire the inside of buildings of which they usually only see the front steps.

The visit was organized by the pope's almoner Bishop Konrad Krajewski, who earlier this year started organizing showers and shaves in St. Peter's Square for people who live rough.

Krajewski is also credited with distributing 300 umbrellas forgotten by tourists to the area's homeless during a rainy spell in February.

The chapel was closed to the public early on Thursday to allow the visit.

(Reporting by Isla Binnie and Max Rossi)

Roberto, an homeless that lives around Vatican, walks to Swiss guards before to enter the Vatican March 26, 2015.  REUTERS/Max Rossi