The formerly homeless street paper vendor who met the Pope

This month, Pope Francis granted a rare private audience with one of INSP’s formerly homeless vendors. Straatnieuws seller Marc travelled from Utrecht in the Netherlands to Rome to interview the leader of the Catholic Church. In this interview about his experiences in the Vatican, he says it was an “unforgettable experience” and he hopes the article will help his fellow vendors sell lots of street papers.

Read the full interview with Pope Francis himself.

Marc with Pope Francis Photo: Frank Dries

By Frank Dries, Straatnieuws editor

Formerly homeless, 51-year-old Utrecht native Marc has been selling Straatnieuws for two years near the Oudegracht – the ‘old canal’ that runs through the centre of his hometown. He also works a couple of days a week in the Straatnieuws office. It gives him a livelihood, a daily routine, and he really enjoys it in the office because of the ‘fantastic’ atmosphere. When Straatnieuws asked him if he fancied going to Rome for a top secret interview with a ‘world famous man’, he didn’t need asking twice – even if he didn’t know who it was he was going to meet until two days before they left.

When did you realise who it was they wanted you to interview?

I was wondering who it could be for a really long time. And it was all such a big secret. The penny dropped when I saw the Pope on TV. He was in America. There was a girl with a letter in her hand and she was allowed to go up to him. When the chief editor told me everything two days before departure and asked me to guess who it was, I got it right first time, haha!

How did it feel to ask the Pope questions?

It was so brilliant that he made the time for me and he thanked me for making such a long journey to meet with him. What I did notice was that he thought about my questions so calmly. He took me seriously, that was really great. He is such a kind, wise but also humorous man. We had a really good laugh! Just a pity that he only spoke in Italian.

Why do you think he gave us, the street papers of the world, an interview?

Simple. Because he is very committed to poor people. His name says it all: Francis is the patron saint of the poor and less fortunate. That’s why he understands only too well what a street paper does and why. He is our friend – and you help friends.

Why couldn’t he go and eat pizza with you? He thought it was a good idea, after all…

Absolutely. But he excused himself. Unfortunately, he can’t set foot outside the Vatican because then the people in St Peter’s Square would go crazy. He is kind of a prisoner of the Vatican. But he also sees that as a blessing from God, he gets to be the Pope. He has kept his feet on the ground and prefers a simple life. That’s why he doesn’t live in the papal palace but rather in a Vatican hotel. In the mornings he can have breakfast there with the staff if he wants to.

What would you like to say to your colleagues all over the world following your trip to see the Holy Father?

Dear street paper vendors, keep doing what you’re doing and spend your hard-earned money on the good things in life. I hope that this interview will help you all to sell more papers. And I also hope that you now know for sure that there are very powerful world leaders out there who actively support you. The interview for the street papers is not just a present – he is giving himself to you. He gave me a rosary but actually it is for all of you. And, be proud of your paper!

How do you look back on the whole trip?

I was really quite nervous the day before but on the day itself it went just fine, it seemed so normal to be talking to him. That was really strange. That also made it an unforgettable experience.

Your girlfriend says that you’re going to be famous. Are you looking forward to that?