Alexander Pawlewski, a 63-year-old Polish national, was found dead on the streets of Rome last month with his sole possessions-- a blanket, and the cardboard box that he used as a bed. The homeless beggar was often seen on the streets of Rome, and he perished from exposure to the cold, reports Catholic News Agency.
Though it's been a month since his death, he has not been forgotten. On Jan. 10, papal almoner Archbishop Konrad Krajewski held a funeral mass for Pawlewski at the university chapel at the Pontifical Urban University. 200 students and many of his homeless friends filled the chapel to mourn him, according to the National Catholic Reporter.
Father Policarpo Nowak of the Vatican Secretariat of State gave the homily, declaring, "Let us defend ourselves from the evil of selfishness and indifference, offering more time to our neighbor, and above all recognizing his full dignity as a child of God." He continued, "Due to the economic, spiritual and moral crisis of today, the hearts of many are frozen and many are dying in inhumane conditions."
Pawlewski's funeral came about due to the efforts of students at the Urban University, a residence for seminarians from the developing world, who heard about his death and wanted to remember him. The National Catholic Reporter wrote that they asked permission for a funeral from authorities at the university, who agreed to help organize it.
The funeral was held by the Community of Sant'Egidio, a charity which helps the poor, in collaboration with the Pontifical Urban University, reports the National Catholic Register. Carl Santoro of the Community of Sant'Egidio spoke of the alienation of the poor to the Register. He said that loneliness, "is something very common among those who live on the street. They truly suffer because of it.” Friends told the Register that no family member ever took interest in Pawlewski.
Though he presided over the Mass for Pawlewski, Archbishop Krajewski downplayed his presence at the funeral. "I'm a bishop of the streets," he said to the National Catholic Reporter. "It's normal that I would do this."
Pope Francis has spoken out many times about the importance of caring for the poor and homeless. Fighting poverty and hunger has already become a defining issue of his young papacy. His attitude is clearly making a difference, as in December 2013 a funeral was held for another marginalized person-- homeless trans woman Andrea Quintero, whose remains went unclaimed for month before Jesuits laid her to rest in the Church of the Gesù, the mother church of the order.
“I assure you that the homeless, the poor, are exactly like us and therefore, they have the right to a beautiful funeral, only sometimes these are people who die alone and no one knows of their death,” said Father Nowak, according to CNA.