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VATICAN CITY — Priests in the northern Italian town of Bergamo will be asked to give up a month of their salaries to fund charity projects in the name of the soon-to-be-saint Pope John XXIII, Vatican officials said Monday.

John XXIII, who led the Catholic Church from 1958 until his death in 1963, came from near Bergamo. He is due to be canonized along with another 20th century pope, John Paul II, in a ceremony next month that is expected to draw large crowds to the Vatican.

To mark the event, Monsignor Giulio Dellavite from the Bergamo diocese said local priests will devolve their $1,380 monthly pay packet to a church fund giving support to hard-up families.
Counting also donations collected during mass, the Bergamo church hopes to raise $827,000, Dellavite said.

In addition, the diocese plans to finance a housing aid fund by selling church properties, turn an abandoned army barracks into a shelter for the poor, and support projects in Haiti and Albania.
“It will be a celebration (of John XXIII’s sainthood) dedicated to charity,” Dellavite said.

The prelate said the Bergamo church was also responding to Pope Francis’ invitation to make “real” sacrifices for Lent, the six-week period of penance that leads to Easter, which this year falls on April 20.

The canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II is scheduled a week later, on April 27. Italian officials say up to 7 million pilgrims may turn up, but Vatican officials downplayed those forecasts, and presented the event as a no-frills, “spiritual” affair.

Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, will be invited to the saint-making ceremony in Saint Peter’s Square, but it is too early to say whether he will attend, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said.

Rome Cardinal Agostino Vallini said “not much” was planned for pilgrims, apart from the overnight opening of 11 churches on the eve of the service. In 2011, when John Paul II was beatified, an open-air vigil was held in Rome’s Circus Maximus, at huge cost.

However, the Vatican said it would publicize the event through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media, including a smartphone application called “Santo Subito” (saint now), due to be launched in the coming days.

Photo: @Doug88888 via Flickr

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