VATICAN CITY - An Italian man hung the phone up on Pope Francis twice thinking he was being pranked, but later apologised to him personally for his error, Vatican newspaper l’Osservatore Romano reported Thursday

The pontiff, who often contacts strangers who write to him or whose problems he hears about, called Franco Rabuffi on Monday to comfort him as he was sick. Rabuffi disconnected the call twice thinking the call was a hoax.

When the pope rang back a third time, Rabuffi finally took him seriously. ‘I was speechless but Francis came to my rescue, saying that what had happened was funny,’ he told the Vatican newspaper. Rabuffi, along with his wife, appeared before the pope during the Vatican’s general audience on Wednesday and personally apologised for his mistake. Moreover, the Vatican under Pope Francis gave out aid worth 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million) in 2014, an increase of 25 percent over the previous year, an official said on Thursday.

Refugees, prisoners, the homeless, the sick and the elderly benefitted from the aid that charities received from the Vatican office responsible for taking care of the poorest. Individuals also received direct Vatican aid - 8,000 people benefited from it in 2014 - along with religious communities which used it for basic needs or building renovation work. The donations are generally modest, because the Vatican hopes to reach as many people as possible, explained Bishop Diego Giovanni Ravelli, chief of staff to Polish Archbishop Konrad Krajewski who heads up the charity office.

Since Francis became pope in 2013, he has made the plight of the homeless and other marginalised groups one of the defining themes of his papacy. Fundraising initiatives have multiplied with the pontiff even auctioning off gifts from visiting heads of state.  There have also been several symbolic gestures. Last month dozens of homeless people were treated to a private viewing of the Sistine Chapel, complete with a surprise appearance by Pope Francis. Next month, the Vatican will hold a charity concert, where the VIP seats will go to the poor. ‘The illustrious guests who will occupy the posts of honour in the front rows, normally reserved for VIPs, will be the poor of Rome,’ Bishop Ravelli said.