Antechapel and rest house

Outside St. Peter’s Basilica, a McDonald’s serves Christ’s poor.

Early in the morning, when Pope Francis has just finished preparing his homily for the daily mass and the great doors of St. Peter’s Basilica are poised to groan and be hauled open, the first congregants gather in the McDonald’s just outside Vatican City.

At this time of morning the booths with outlets—prime real estate—fill quickly with middle-aged men wearing multiple coats. Before some of them must hurry out into the crowds and try to sell rosaries, umbrellas, power banks, tours, before others must go to hawk and fidget from behind tiny cart stands, before the remaining few sit on plastic crates and beg, they breathe in this time to sit and stretch their legs.

The Discalced Carmelites who come to Rome are not, despite their name, usually barefoot, but other zealous pilgrims and wanderers sometimes are, including one regular customer. He is asking for change this winter morning, from anyone who looks as though they might have change to offer. His tunic and coat drag on the ground, and so it is a grace that they were dark brown to begin with. He would like a caffè, and he makes his rounds among the plastic-cushioned booths.