Pope Francis visits a vaccination centre at the Paul VI Hall where the poor and homeless are being inoculated, at the Vatican, April 23, 2021. Vatican Media/Handout via REUTERS
Pope Francis visited homeless and needy people getting free COVID-19 vaccines from his Vatican charity on Friday as he celebrated his name day, the feast of St. George.
About 600 of the 1,400 people who received a first dose several weeks ago got their second shot on Friday.
Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio 82 years ago in Buenos Aires, spent about 30 minutes chatting with some of the recipients, many from the area around the Vatican.
As they sang and shouted “auguri” (best wishes) for his name day, he offered them food and sweets including a giant chocolate Easter egg that volunteers cracked open, giving him a piece.
The Vatican also has begun a campaign that allows donors to contribute, via the website of the Vatican almoner’s office, the cost of a vaccine destined for people in poor countries.
Called “vaccino sospeso” (suspended vaccine), it takes its name from the tradition of the “caffe sospeso” in Naples whereby people leave money to pay for a coffee for a needy person whose identity is known only to the bartender.
Francis, who has been vaccinated, as has former Pope Benedict, 93, has said getting a shot is the ethical choice unless there are serious medical reasons not to.
Under Francis, the Vatican has set up a number of structures to help Rome’s homeless population, including a clinic, bathing facilities and hair-cutting services.