Thermal sleeping bags were distributed to some rough sleepers

Looking out over St Peter’s Square where icicles hung from usually bubbling fountains, Pope Francis prayed for the homeless.

The freeze in Rome, subzero temperatures in large parts of Europe and heavy snowfalls in many areas in early January forced the closure of roads and schools and were blamed for at least a dozen deaths.

“In these very cold days, I think and I invite you to think of the people who live on the streets, struck by the cold and, many times, by indifference,” Pope Francis told people in St Peter’s Square on January 8.

“Unfortunately, some have not survived,” the Pope told people who had bundled up against the midday chill to recite the Angelus prayer with him. “Let us pray for them and ask the Lord to warm our hearts so that we can help them.”

Because of the cold weather, the papal charities office instituted a 24-hour open-door policy at the shelters it runs with the Missionaries of Charity for homeless men and homeless women. Usually the shelters open in the evening and close in the morning.

The Vatican has also distributed to some homeless thermal sleeping bags that protect down to minus 20C (minus 4F). Some Vatican vehicles, their doors unlocked, were left at night outside the Vatican City’s high walls, so homeless people could take turns going inside the cars to warm up. Several homeless sleep outside, under Vatican porticoes.

Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner and point man for Pope Francis’ aid to the homeless around the Vatican, was unavailable for comment Jan. 9. However, Italian media reported that he left a van and another automobile from his office unlocked and parked outside the Vatican over the weekend so the homeless could take turns using it for shelter.