Vatican hands out free umbrellas to homeless

Priests shelter from rain under umbrellas in St Peter's Square during the canonisation of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. Pope Francis has said that umbrellas left behind by tourists are to be given to homeless people.Reuters

Pope Francis has ordered that umbrellas forgotten by tourists be distributed to the homeless of Rome to get them through a spate of unusually rainy weather, Ansa news agency said on its website on Friday.

The Vatican said in a statement that work had been finished on new facilities in St Peter's Square where homeless will be offered showers, toiletries, shaves and haircuts. The facilities are due to open soon.

Francis, who was known as the "slum bishop" in his native Buenos Aires because of his frequent visits to shanty towns, has made concern for the poor a major plank of his papacy.

The head of the pope's charity office, Monsignor Konrad Krajewski, told Ansa 300 umbrellas left behind by tourists at Vatican museums had been distributed in recent days.

Krajewski came up with the idea of building showers in St. Peter's Square after a homeless person told him that while it was relatively easy to find places to eat at Rome charities, it was difficult to find places to wash.

Barbers and hairdressers will donate their services on Mondays, the day their shops are traditionally closed in Italy. The showers will be open every day except Wednesday, when the square is crowded with people for the pope's general audience.