The cardinal known as ‘the Pope’s Robin Hood’ is defying a decree closing Rome churches due to the coronavirus pandemic, opening his own titular one for prayer and explaining: “Home should always be open to its children”.

– An “act of disobedience” for the Church’s “children”

“It is the act of disobedience, yes, I myself put the Blessed Sacrament out and opened my church”, papal almsgiver and pointman for the poor and less fortunate, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, told Crux March 13.

Krajewski was speaking just a day after Cardinal Vicar of Rome Angelo De Donatis decreed that all 900 or so churches in the Eternal City were to be closed until April 3, even for private prayer.

A ban on the public celebration of Masses in Italy had already been in place since March 8.

De Donatis’ unprecedented decision to close Rome’s churches came Thursday as the total number of cases of coronavirus in Italy rose to 12,462, with 827 deaths and 1,045 recoveries.

“We are experiencing a very serious health situation”, Cardinal De Donatis explained, justifying his move to shutter Rome’s temples.

“Each person, in particular, is asked to have the utmost attention, because any imprudence in observing health measures could harm other people”, the cardinal continued.

“The decision to close the churches can also be an expression of this responsibility. […] This is not because the state requires it, but out of a sense of belonging to the human family, exposed to a virus whose nature and propagation we do not yet know”.

– “I operate according to the Gospel; this is my law”

In his conversation with Crux Friday, Krajewski showed himself convinced that he had good reasons for defying the ban to keep churches closed.

“It did not happen under fascism, it did not happen under the Russian or Soviet rule in Poland – the churches were not closed”, the Polish cardinal explained, urging that his choice to open his titular church of Santa Maria Immacolata in the Italian capital’s Esquiline neighborhood was to be seen as “an act that should bring courage to other priests”.

“Home should always be open to its children… I don’t know whether people will come or not, how many of them, but their home is open”.

“I operate according to the Gospel; this is my law”, Krajewski continued, referring to the fact that, even through the virus crisis, the papal almsgiving office he heads up has not given up on feeding the homeless, only that now they have resorted to handing out “bags from the heart” in Rome’s underprivileged neighbourhoods with food inside instead of sharing a communal meal with the poor.

“This help is evangelical, and it will be carried out”, the cardinal promised.

– “Respecting all the rules but not leaving anyone without help”

Krajewski’s pledge to continue guaranteeing food and shelter for the poor is the latest expression of the Vatican and the Italian Church’s determination to keep providing for society’s most vulnerable people even in the face of the deadly health emergency.

People are called to respond to the coronavirus crisis “not with fear, but with solidarity and attention to the common good, to the welfare of those who are poorest and most fragile”, said Marco Impagliazzo, the president of the lay Community of Sant’Egidio in Rome.

That Community is supporting more than 3,000 lonely, poor and elderly people across the city by telephone calls and by delivering food for free.

For his part, Krajewski had already promised that, as well as the food services for the poor, the Vatican shower facilities will also continue for the duration of the contagion, although now with the expectation that users wear face-masks and keep a safe distance from each other.

“Respecting the rules imposed by the emergency with evangelical intelligence, we will continue going through the streets to feed the homeless”, Krajewski told Italian media earlier this week.

“These days we run the risk of thinking only of ourselves. But what about the poor? It is more difficult for them. We should not and cannot forget to lend a hand to people who suffer and are alone”, the cardinal insisted.

“It’s about respecting all the rules but not leaving anyone without help”.

– Updated 13/3/ 23:38 CET: De Donatis reverses church closure decree, Krajewski gives out mobile number for emergencies

After Pope Francis warned Friday that “drastic measures are not always good”, and after personal consultations with the pontiff, Cardinal De Donatis reversed his earlier decree closing Rome’s churches, affirming that the Eternal City’s parish churches – and not all of them are such – could reopen again provided they take special care to limit contact between people.

Having churches closed “could create disorientation and a greater sense of insecurity” than having them opened, De Donatis said.

Cardinal Krajewski, for his part, later on Friday gave out his mobile number for poor and homeless people to contact him in case of emergencies.

That gesture followed the closure today of the physical offices of the Papal Almonry in the Vatican as part of the Holy See’s ongoing fight to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Follow on Novena the Church’s battle against the coronavirus crisis:

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11/3: Vatican urges “international solidarity” in coronavirus fight, decries “stigmatisation” of victims

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Santa Marta Mass 10/3: Pope asks priests for “courage” to visit, accompany, bring Eucharist to coronavirus ill

9/3: Vatican Cardinal Krajewski praises “care for every life” in coronavirus response; Italian Bishops cancel public Masses until April

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.