In his first public appearance since having an intestinal surgery, Pope Francis prayed the Angelus from the balcony of his hospital on Sunday and delivered a message urging access to good healthcare for everyone.
“In these days of being hospitalized, I have experienced how important good health care is, accessible to all, as it is in Italy and in other countries,” Pope Francis said July 11.
“A free healthcare system that assures good service, accessible to everyone. This precious benefit must not be lost. It needs to be kept. And for this we all need to be committed, because it serves everyone and requires everyone’s contribution.”
The pope spoke while standing beside young patients from Rome’s Gemelli University Hospital where he has been recovering for one week after an intestinal operation in which part of his colon was removed.
Pope Francis said that even when Catholic hospitals face economic difficulties, it is vital to remember that “the Church’s vocation is not to have money, but to serve, and service is always free.”
“Don’t forget this: Save free institutions,” the pope said.
Doctors and nurses stood together with a group of pilgrims gathered outside in the courtyard under the hospital window. People waved flags and banners, and some religious sisters sang hymns as they awaited the pope’s arrival.
“I would like to express my appreciation and my encouragement to the doctors and all healthcare workers and hospital staff at this hospital and other hospitals. They work so hard,” the pope said.
Young patients stood beside the pope and waved as he delivered his Angelus address.
“And let us pray for all the sick. Here are some friends who are sick children,” the pope said gesturing to the children next to him.
During the pope’s week-long hospital stay, Francis exchanged affectionate messages with the young patients in the nearby pediatric oncology and children’s neurosurgery wards.
“Why do children suffer? Why children suffer is a question that touches the heart," the pope said.
"Accompany them with prayer, and pray for all the sick, especially those in more difficult conditions. May no one be left alone. May everyone receive the anointing of listening, closeness and care. Let us ask this through the intercession of Mary, our Mother, Health of the Sick."
Pope Francis was hospitalized on July 4 to undergo an operation to relieve stricture of the colon caused by diverticulitis, a common condition that involves the formation of small bulges or sacs on the wall of the colon.
The Vatican confirmed earlier this week that the 84-year-old pope had suffered a “severe” narrowing of the colon.
A 10-person medical team was involved in Francis’ surgery, which was carried out under general anesthesia, lasted about three hours and included a left hemicolectomy, the removal of one side of the colon.
The Vatican spokesman said July 5 that the pope was expected to spend seven days recovering in the hospital, “barring complications.”
Pope Francis has been recovering on the 10th floor of the sprawling polyclinic in a wing reserved for papal medical emergencies.
It is the same room where John Paul II stayed during many of his hospital treatments, including for a colon surgery in 1992 and his hospitalization after being shot in an assassination attempt in 1981.
This is Francis’ first major operation during his pontificate. In 2019, he had an outpatient surgery for cataracts and he occasionally suffers from flare-ups of sciatic pain.
After praying the Angelus with the crowd, the pope said that he has prayed for the people of Haiti after their president was assassinated on July 7.
“I join in the heartfelt appeal of the country's Bishops to ‘lay down your arms, choose life, choose to live together fraternally in the interest of all and in the interest of Haiti,’” he said.
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“I am close to the dear Haitian people; I hope that the spiral of violence will end and the nation will be able to resume its journey towards a future of peace and harmony.”
Speaking from the hospital balcony, the pope also thanked everyone who has prayed for him during his hospitalization.
“I have felt your closeness and the support of your prayers. Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” he said.
Pope Francis reflected on this Sunday’s Scripture reading from chapter six of the Gospel of Mark in which Jesus’ disciples “anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them.”
He said: “This ‘oil’ makes me think of the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, which gives comfort to spirit and body. But this ‘oil’ is also listening, the closeness, the care, the tenderness of those who take care of the sick person: it is like a caress that makes you feel better, soothes your pain and cheers you up.”
“Sooner or later all of us, all of us, need this ‘anointing’ of closeness and tenderness, and we can all give it to someone else, with a visit, a phone call, a hand outstretched to someone who needs help.”
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.
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