ROME — Continuing his “Mercy Friday” initiative, Pope Francis visited two live-in health centers in the far southern suburbs of Rome today, where he spoke with residents and gave a 22-pound Christmas cake.
Around 3:30pm, the Pope left the Vatican to visit the CasAmica, a home for people with chronic illnesses who need continual medical care. The facility accepts those with serious economic difficulties, and their families, who need support for daily needs.
The residents of the CasAmica are mostly from southern Italy, with some from North Africa and Eastern Europe.
According to a Vatican press release on the Pope’s Dec. 7 visit, the fact that most of the guests are from outside Rome “highlights the phenomenon of ‘health migration,’ with the addition of the burden of hardship and poverty that it entails.”
During his visit, Pope Francis stopped to play and joke with children in the game room of the center and exchanged a few words of comfort with parents.
He also listened to the stories of two children, Achille, 13, and Andrei, 11, who have cancer; of Sandra and Plamen from Bulgaria and Arwa from Morocco, who are 3 and 5 years old and suffer from hematological diseases; and of two men and a woman affected by cancer.
Francis greeted everyone, leaving gifts for the families and a special parchment with a message recording his visit.
Following the visit to CasAmica, the Pope went to a rehabilitation center called Il Ponte e l’Albero (“The Bridge and the Tree”), which is in a poor area on the southern outskirts of Rome.
Twelve young people with mental illnesses and who come from difficult family conditions live at the center. When he arrived, the Pope surprised the boys in the middle of an activity and sat down to speak with them and answer their questions.
Several months ago, three of the boys had written a letter to the Pope to tell him about their difficulties living with mental illness and their efforts to continue the journey to wellness with their doctors.
For the upcoming holiday, the Pope gifted the residents of the center a 22-pound panettone, a traditional Italian Christmas cake.