Surprise! Pope Francis stops by Vatican's new homeless shelter

A group of homeless men sleep just outside of St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Thursday (Nov. 13, 2014). Religion News Service photo by Josephine McKenna

A group of homeless men sleep just outside of St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. Religion News Service photo by Josephine McKenna

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VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis has made a surprise visit to a new homeless shelter just outside Vatican City, the pontiff’s latest move to draw attention to the world’s poor.

The pope made the short journey from the Vatican to the center, close to Rome’s Tiber River, at around 7 p.m. on Thursday (Oct. 15).

Francis’ visit was said to have delighted around 30 homeless men hosted at the dormitory, who spoke to the pope, recounted their stories and asked to be blessed. The pontiff’s visit lasted around 20 minutes, Vatican Radio reported.

READ: Pope Francis to open 30-bed homeless shelter a few steps from Vatican walls

He was accompanied by his almoner (distributor of alms or charity), Archbishop Konrad Krajewski; the Jesuit superior general, the Rev. Adolfo Nicolas; and three nuns who work at the residence.

The “Gift of Mercy” ("Dono di Misericordia") homeless shelter was inaugurated earlier this month and can host 34 people each night. The building, a former travel agency, was converted by Jesuits as a response to Francis’ call for more to be done to help poor people.

There have been rumors that the pope occasionally sneaks out of the Vatican to join those helping homeless people, although his staff has not confirmed such nighttime walks.

READ: Pope Francis: Wasting food is like stealing from the poor

Francis has, however, made high-profile moves to help the homeless, such as building showers at the Vatican and providing haircuts and shaves. A group of homeless people has also been invited to a private tour of the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel.

During his recent visit to the U.S., Pope Francis visited a homeless shelter in Washington, where he said there was “no justification whatsoever” for a lack of housing.