VATICAN CITY: Two cardinals close to Pope Francis have contracted coronavirus, Vatican sources said Tuesday (Dec 22).
The Polish cardinal Konrad Krajewski, who is in charge of the pope's charities, "tested positive for COVID-19", Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said.
The 57-year-old, known as the pope's "Robin Hood" for his work with the poor and the homeless, had symptoms of pneumonia and is currently under surveillance in a hospital in Rome.
Officials are still seeking to identify his recent contacts, but he is known to meet with Pope Francis regularly.
Italian Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, 78, the governor of Vatican City, tested positive and is believed to be in self-isolation in his home in the Vatican, a Vatican source said.
It was not immediately clear if either or both attended an event on Monday at which members of the Vatican's central administration, known as the Curia, exchanged Christmas greetings with the pope.
Krajewski spends much of this time on the streets outside Vatican City helping Rome's homeless population. At the request of Pope Francis, he has set up a clinic, bathing facilities and other services for the homeless just off St Peter's Square.
He is also very active with Italian charities that help the poor and homeless throughout Italy.
The 84-year-old pope, known for his love of getting close to the faithful, has been reluctant to wear a mask despite the pandemic that has hit Italy particularly badly.
The Argentine is considered particularly at risk of complications if he contracts coronavirus, both because of his age and his history of lung problems.
He almost died when he was 21 after developing pleurisy, and had part of one of his lungs removed, according to biographer Austen Ivereigh.
In a recent book, Let Us Dream, Pope Francis described how the experience gave him an insight into how coronavirus victims felt.
It was 1957, and he was in his second year of training for the priesthood in Buenos Aires, when he got taken to hospital fighting for his life.
"I have some sense of how people with coronavirus feel as they struggle to breathe on ventilators," the pontiff wrote.
Italy, the first Western country hit by the virus, has seen 69,214 COVID-19 fatalities since its outbreak emerged in February, the highest toll in Europe and the fifth-highest in the world. It has also registered some 1.96 million cases to date.
In September, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, a Filipino who heads the Vatican's missionary arm, tested positive and went into isolation but is believed to be in good heath now.
During the first wave of the pandemic last spring, more than a dozen Swiss Guard tested positive as well as a person who lived in the same guest house where Pope Francis resides.
Andrea Arcangeli, the head of the Vatican's health services, said earlier this month that the city-state will start vaccinated residents and staff members early in the new year.