Vatican-owned church in Rome opens as homeless dormitory in cold snap

Vatican-owned church in Rome opens as homeless dormitory in cold snap
This handout picture released by the Vatican press office shows Pope Francis standing on a balcony of St Peter's basilica during the traditional "Urbi et Orbi" Christmas message to the city and the world, on December 25, 2015 in Vatican.

ROME - The Vatican has allowed a church it owns in a central Rome neighbourhood to open at night as a dormitory for the homeless while a cold snap persists.

The 17th century church of San Callisto, which is used for Mass and religion classes for the elderly during the day, has been filled with beds and electric space heaters at night.

A statement from Pope Francis' alms-giving office on Friday said the church can accommodate about 30 people.

The church is part of a complex of Vatican offices and residences that has "extra-territorial" diplomatic status, meaning it is part of the sovereign state of Vatican City even though it about a mile away in the Rome neighbourhood of Trastevere.

The programme is run by the Sant' Egidio Community, a lay Catholic group of mostly volunteers that runs soup kitchens in the crowded neighbourhood and offers assistance, including Italian language classes, to refugees and immigrants.

As unseasonably cold weather hit Rome this month, Pope Francis also ordered that Vatican cars and vans be parked in the neighbourhood around St. Peter's Square at night to shelter homeless.

In the past two years, his alms-giving office has opened locales near the Vatican where the homeless can wash, get haircuts and receive information on where to get medical help.

The Vatican statement said the church would open at night for as long as necessary.

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