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Pope's initiative sees homeless flock to Vatican

VATICAN CITY - Homeless men and women lined up Monday off St. Peter's Square to take advantage of Pope Francis' latest charitable initiative: a free shave and shower for the least fortunate.

Mauro Casubolo, 49, was one of the first clients as the pope's barbershop opened in the public restrooms just off the Bernini Colonnade. His chin was still red from the shave - his first in three weeks - but he was grateful.

"It's a beautiful thing he's done for us, especially for us who live in the middle of the streets, because if you want to try to go find some work you can come here and have a shower," he said.

Francis' chief alms-giver, Monsignor Konrad Krajewski, has said the project is needed since homeless people are often shunned for their appearance and smell. The initiative is being funded by donations and the sale of papal parchments by Krajewski's office.

Barbers volunteering on their days off - Rome's barber shops are often closed Mondays - as well as students from a local beauty school are donating their time, as well as some sisters from religious orders and other volunteers.

Hairdresser Enrico Palmieri will do his first volunteer shift next Monday. "I was curious," he said after getting his marching orders from organizers Monday. "It's something beautiful."

Casubolo says he gets by with handouts from local charitable organizations, but that what he wants most is a job.

"Even if I need to clean steps somewhere, clean bathrooms, I don't care," he said. "As long as I have a salary that gets me to the end of the month, I'll be OK. I can have a home and live like everyone else."

He added: "I'm 49 years old - it's not like I'm 60 or 80. For me it's tragic that I've ended up this way."

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