The children at the Bambino Gesu Pediatric Hospital in Rome – known locally as the "Pope's Hospital" – are enthusiastic about Pope Francis' Christmas visit, scheduled for December 21.

In statements to CNA, the president of the hospital, Giuseppe Profiti, said news of the visit has been "joyfully welcomed by the personnel and has spread quickly among the young patients and their families as well."

The Holy Father's visit responds to the call of these children, who sent drawings to the Pope for his inaugural Mass on March 19 inviting him to come to the hospital.

The Pope is very popular among the children at the hospital, who know many details about his life, his home country of Argentina, his words and homilies, and his favorite soccer team.

The Pontiff has received letters from many of the children.

"Dear Pope Francis," reads one letter, "I would like to ask you to pray for all the sick children, not only for those at this hospital but for those all over the world. All children ought to be at home and not in the hospital."

During a recent visit to a parish on the outskirts of Rome, Pope Francis said that if he could perform one miracle, it would be "to heal children, because it pains me to see children suffer."

The papal visit continues an esteemed tradition dating back to 1958, when Pope John XXIII visited the hospital for the first time. Four years later, he returned to show his concern for the children.

Pope Paul VI visited the hospital in January 1968. Eleven years later, Pope John Paul II continued the tradition. Pope Benedict XVI visited the hospital in September 2005, during the first three months of his pontificate, in order "to bear witness to the love of Jesus for children."

The Bambino Gesu hospital was built in 1869 and is the oldest pediatric hospital in Italy.