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Pope Francis makes surprise visits to neonatal unit, hospice

Pope Francis holds an infant at the neonatal unit as he visits the San Giovanni hospital in Rome, September 16, 2016. Photo by Osservatore Romano via Reuters.
Pope Francis holds an infant at the neonatal unit as he visits the San Giovanni hospital in Rome, September 16, 2016. Photo by Osservatore Romano via Reuters.

Pope Francis holds an infant at the neonatal unit as he visits the San Giovanni Hospital in Rome on Sept. 16, 2016. Photo by L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters.

ROME (RNS) Pope Francis made a surprise visit on Friday (Sept. 16) to a Rome hospital to bless seriously ill newborns and then stopped at a hospice for terminally ill patients.

The impromptu visits, the latest in the pope’s unscheduled “Mercy Friday” appointments, were part of the Holy Year of Mercy and aimed at highlighting the Catholic Church’s teaching on the sanctity of all life at all stages.

Twelve babies with serious defects were among the patients at Francis’ first stop, at the neonatal unit at the San Giovanni Hospital in the heart of Rome.

The pontiff donned a surgical mask and robe before he stopped at the incubators. Five of the infants, including a set of twins, are suffering from severe health complications and are on feeding or breathing tubes.

The Vatican keeps these visits secret until the last minute, and hospital staff were surprised to see the pope as he entered the intensive care unit.

“The Holy Father stopped at each incubator and greeted the parents who were there, giving them comfort and courage,” the Vatican said.

He also visited infants who were recovering in another unit.

Later Francis made a second stop at Villa Speranza, a hospice for 30 terminally ill patients that is attached to the Agostino Gemelli Hospital.

The Vatican said the pope visited with each patient and their relatives, many of whom were overcome with emotion when they met the pope.

The Vatican said the pope had wanted these two visits to give a “strong sign of the importance of life from the first moment to its natural end,” and said the visits once again underscored Francis’ concern for the weak and those living in precarious circumstances.

Previous “Mercy Friday” visits have included visits to a drug and alcohol rehab center, a nursing home, a residence for retired priests and a center for women rescued from prostitution.

(Josephine McKenna covers the Vatican for RNS)

About the author

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.


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  • You see every good deed as a bad deed.
    I wonder if there is a term to describe this?

    Who are you ‘quoting’ on FB, Betty, to ‘support’ your jaundiced view? I’m not going to follow your link, that’s for sure.
    As for Robert D Lupton, I’ve never heard of him. But if he’s referring to good deeds such as Pope Francis’s here, then he’s wrong too.

  • My ‘logical rebuttal’ (having now read hundreds of your comments, over the years) is that ‘You see every good deed as a bad deed’.
    Do you disagree?

  • “You see every good deed as a bad deed. I wonder if there is a term to describe this?”


    Two issues where the Catholic Church interjects itself at the expense of others have to do with choices involving birth and death. The Church doesn’t trust people to make their own personal decisions and feels the need to do it for them. Whether its wanted or not.

  • I certainly can’t call the visit a good deed any more than I would if a politician stopped by a hospital for a photo op. Its a PR move.

  • Christians believe that the kingdom prepared for us will be ours if we follow Jesus’s instructions. These instructions include that we visit the sick. See Matthew chapter 25:35.
    Pope Francis is modelling this behavior. To this end, it is helpful (indeed, it is necessary) that the behavior be communicated. Hence the cameras, and hence articles such as this one.
    But how amazing to me, that there are so many people who cannot bear the idea of seeing the Pope doing his job.

  • Visiting the sick for the purpose of exploiting their image for public relations isn’t what Jesus had in mind. It takes a level of mendacity to use such a literal reference to scripture there.

    “But how amazing to me, that there are so many people who cannot bear the idea of seeing the Pope doing his job.”

    Mostly because the Pope’s job involves a lot of things which are not really very beneficial for others. When Popes take vows of poverty, then maybe they might draw a little less ire from the public.

  • You know “what Jesus had in mind, Spuddie? Hmm.
    Doubtless there were people in Jesus’s own day who – if they had spoken in your language – would have accused Him of ‘exploiting His image for public relations’. And, if cameras had existed 2000 years’ ago, He would have been photographed doing his good works. And your equivalent of 2000 years ago would have accused Him of engaging in “photo ops”.
    It’s all a bit silly isn’t it, your whole way of looking at this?

    BTW, I’ve no idea why you should think that my citing Matthew 25:35 is ‘mendacious’. We are to visit the sick (amongst other things). It’s what we do. I find your accusation disgraceful.

  • If Jesus was worthy of worship in the first place, it is obvious that exploiting the weak and suffering for personal aggrandizement was not something he would have encouraged, 🙂

    “Doubtless there were people in Jesus’s own day who – if they had spoken in your language – would have accused Him of ‘….”

    LOL! Equivalent only if Jesus was the head of a global empire dependent contributions of his followers. Can you be a bit more dishonest in your representations here? Of course you can. 🙂

    ” I’ve no idea why you should think that my citing Matthew 25:35 is ‘mendacious’.”

    I doubt that as well. A quote which was both literal and entirely missing the point. But you knew that.

  • I now see, from your other comments on Disqus, that you are probably an atheist?
    You are, of course, entitled to your opinion.
    However, you are not well-placed to interpret Christian scriptures – nor are you entitled to call me ‘mendacious’ for explaining them to you.

    Matthew chapter 25 includes Jesus’s parable of judgement. He tells us how the righteous and the unrighteous will be judged. He tells us that the righteous will do the following things:- give food to the hungry; give drink to the thirsty; welcome the stranger; clothe the naked; visit the sick; visit those in prison.

    Now there is no reason why you should believe this, if you are an atheist. But Christians do believe it. And Pope Francis is modelling all of these things.

    Matthew chapter 25 most certainly does not ‘miss the point’. It explains what Pope Francis is doing here.

  • He needs to do much more, as regards preventing further abuse (including rapes) in the Church, and as regards punishing those bishops who have covered up abuse. That’s true.
    But you are wrong to call him (in another of your comments – My, but you are being busy) a “pedophile”. There has been no suggestion of this. Perhaps you believe that your computer’s address is untraceable?

  • That’s fine, ‘Suzy’.
    I don’t mind at all, your thinking me a “chump” – or “a fool for Christ’s sake”. 1 Corinthians 4:10

  • “Schooled?”
    I’m learning nothing from you, ‘Suzy’ – except, perhaps, the sort of person that you are.
    As for “non violent” – that’s not how many of your recent comments sound.
    I’m getting the idea (I’m completely new to this forum or blog) that it’s not Moderated?

  • LOL. I am not a Christian like you, therefore I am not qualified to point out your obvious dishonesty. That is truly funny. Self serving and funny.

    When the Pope takes a vow of poverty and the majority of Vatican assets go to charitable works, his actions in public will get the assumption of being good works.

  • No, you are not qualified to explain scripture.
    Nor are you qualified to know whether I am ‘dishonest’.
    You reject a God. And yet you set yourself up as a God – as if you are all-knowing.
    When in reality you know nothing (or very little).

  • It doesn’t take belief in Christianity to know when a person is insincere or to read a text. Despite what your preacher may say, you are not a special snowflake just for being a Christian.

    “And yet you set yourself up as a God – as if you are all-knowing.”

    By deigning to call out the high and mighty Christian on some obvious BS. The only person who considers themselves some kind of divine being is yourself. Evidently you consider yourself so God-like that you nobody else is somehow fit to make judgments about your statements. That is some Grade A hubris right there.

  • You keep throwing out the same lame accusations – but without adding anything new.

    You have accused me of ‘mendacity’ and ‘dishonesty’ and ‘insincerity’ – but you have done so without your having the remotest way of knowing my beliefs or my sincerity in holding them.

    This is why it is you who is ‘playing God’ here, and not I. It is you who is claiming to be all-knowing. It is you who is claiming to know other people’s inner motivations.


  • You keep pretending a PR stunt was the equivalent of Jesus administering to the sick and injured.

    Let me make this even clearer, when the Catholic Church stops trying to coerce people into following their views concerning birth and death, then a visit from the Pope to a children’s hospital and hospice will come off less opportunistic.

  • I’m “pretending” nothing.
    It is you who keep failing to understand that Jesus told us to visit the sick (amongst other things).
    And so, while the Pope’s visit is not exactly ‘equivalent’ (look up the word, if you need to), it’s certainly following Jesus’s teachings.
    And that’s really all there is to it.

    But if you wish to see Francis’s visit as nothing more than ‘a PR stunt’, then you are welcome to do so. The loss is yours.
    Don’t, however, expect everyone who has come to a ‘religion news’ website to agree with you or to believe you.

    As for your ‘making things even clearer’:- I don’t think you could possibly make your cynicism or your scepticism any clearer.

  • I agree, visit the sick.


    Visit the sick and bring a reporter? Really? For your clairity, this is what Spuddie objects to.

    BTW: if you put your scripture out there as a weapon, he’s qualified to parry.

  • Hello Erik.
    The Pope visits the sick because to do so is is one of the works of mercy. He is accompanied on these visits by cameras and reporters – partly because this is what happens when you are a church or state leader, but mainly because he wishes Catholics to learn about these works of mercy. Not all Catholics seem to know (or to agree) that they are meant to be merciful:- to help the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the stranger, the prisoners. Francis is teaching us. He is teaching anyone who wishes to learn – whether Catholic or not.
    So the camera is important. It is part of spreading the word.

    BTW – In these days of mobile phones:- If there wasn’t an ‘official photographer’, then in any event photos would be taken and disseminated (on social media and the like) by the people whom he is visiting, no? This is the way of the world now.

    I cited scripture [Matthes chapter 25] – not as a ‘weapon’, but simply in order to let Spuddie know that it was Jesus who taught us to visit the sick.
    I have no problem with Spuddie ‘parrying’, but if he wants to do so, then he should at least know something about the Christian scriptures.

  • In the world we should pick the hills we want to die on. This aint one for me.

    I could go on about the crass way our modern world turns every act of mercy this man might try into a PR event. i have a personal cynicism that has a hard time believing pure intentions ever coming from the top of a huge pile of cash. Seeing you’re quoting St Francis to me, you might agree. i however list all these as my problems, not yours.

    i want to see the pope seen in hospital setting this example. our previous pontiff was only ever quoted blathering on about the unborn and about the evils of Same Sex marriage, completely missing all the other missions a pontiff could be seen doing.

    Let’s decide to agree. Enjoy your Sunday!

  • There is rarely an intervention by a moderator on this site, it tends to be a free for all, including foul and obscene phrases masked in acronyms. Sadly, sometimes they come from those endorsing the classic orthodox view of the bible, which makes a terrible testimony.

  • When the RC Church finally permits women to become priests, stops condemning contraception, and woman’s right to choose, then I will give this pope and his church credence.
    Abortion is still considered to be a “sin,” although it has been done for thousands of years, as is the use of artificial means of birth control, women are considered “unfit” to become priests, and to take one’s own life if they are terminally ill and in intractable pain, is, also, “a sin,” Thousands of priests abused living children and most were never held accountable. There is something very wrong with that picture. When these atrocities change, then I will give the RC Church credence.

  • Bingo! You nailed my thoughts exactly. When there is so much rot within, it’s just not good sense to applaud a single decent act as if that counteracts a barge load of dishonesty.

    Pedophilic priests relied on just that kind of thinking. “Oh but he was so kind at my mother’s funeral. How dare you accuse him of molesting children!”

    It doesn’t work for individual priests, nor the entire RCC. That, Mark, is why so many people have nothing but scorn and contempt for the RCC. They earned it, and doubling down, continue to earn it.