A cardinal and aide to Pope Francis for charitable missions climbed down a manhole to restore power to hundreds of people, including children, who were living without electricity and hot water for days in a Rome building, according to local reports.
In defiance to authorities, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski said he intervened personally Saturday evening to switch the meters back on for about 450 people, including 100 minors, who live in an abandoned state-owned building, according to ANSA news agency.
“It was a desperate gesture,” Krajewski, who is Vatican almoner and Francis’ “charitable arm” told ANSA. “There were over 400 people without electricity – families, children – without even the chance to run the refrigerators.”
“I didn’t do it because I was drunk,” he added.
Cardinal Krajewski confirmed to CNN he did switch the grid back on himself.
Activists from the Spin Time Labs collective have occupied the building since 2013, providing shelter for homeless families but also a tavern, a theater, a craft beer laboratory, a carpentry shop, a music rehearsal studio, and various social activities.
The power was cut on May 6 after they accumulated a debt of €300,000 (£260,000 or $337,000), according to ANSA.
The collective appealed on Facebook to the city of Rome to find a lasting solution “so that light doesn’t go out anymore.”
During a campaign speech in Bra, Cuneo, Italy’s far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini said: “I expect the Pope’s almoner also pays the €300,000 in debt,” amid the cheers of his supporters. “I think all of you pay the bills by making sacrifices. If someone is able to pay the bills for the millions of Italians who are struggling economically, we are happy.”
A spokesperson for Salvini’s office told CNN the minister “hopes Krajewski can pay the arrears back.”
CNN’s Delia Gallagher and Valentina DiDonato contributed reporting