Pope Francis made his first public appearance on Sunday since major bowel surgery last week, greeting supporters as he stood for 10 minutes on a hospital balcony, thanking the many praying for his recovery and approving health care for all as “a previous thing.”
According to the Vatican, Francis, 84, is regularly on the mend, after his surgery scheduled for July 4 to remove part of his colon that had narrowed due to inflammation.
The Vatican hasn’t said just when the Pope might be removed from office. The morning after his operation, a spokesman for the Holy See said his hospital stay was to last seven days, “barring complications.”
The pontiff’s voice sounded weak as he began his remarks after stepping onto a balcony outside his special suite at the Gemelli Polyclinic at noon local time. But he smiled broadly at those gathered below, including those hospitalized well enough to temporarily leave their rooms to encourage him.
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Noon is the time when traditionally he would have appeared from a Vatican window overlooking St. Peter’s Square to recite the Angelus, or prayer. Exactly a week earlier in his public remarks, he had given no indication that in a few hours he would be entering the hospital for surgery.
“I am happy to be able to hold the Sunday meeting of the Angelus, even here from the Gemelli polyclinic,” said Francis. “I thank everyone. I have felt your closeness and the support of your prayers.”
“Thank you from the heart!” the pontiff exclaimed, smiling, looking over the balustrade to better see the faithful below.
Standing on the balcony with him were children who are also hospitalized at Gemelli, a large Catholic university hospital on the outskirts of Rome. The crowd below often applauded in encouragement.
Francis underwent three hours of surgery under general anesthesia on the evening of July 4, and later that night, the Holy See described as having responded well.
While reading prepared remarks, he kept one or both hands on a desk for support, including when he raised an arm in blessing.
The Pope praised the “tenderness” of those who care for the sick, which he described as “like a caress that makes you feel better, relieves pain and lifts you up”.
“In these days of hospitalization, I experienced once again how important a good health service is, accessible to all, as it is the case in Italy and in other countries”, said Francis .
“We must not lose this precious thing,” the Pope said. He added that “sometimes it happens in the (Catholic) church that a health facility, due to mismanagement, does not perform well economically, and the first thought that comes to mind is is to sell it. But the vocation in the church is not to have money, it is to be of service. “
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Francis added his appreciation and encouragement to the healthcare workers, then, referring to the pediatric patients who joined him, asked, “Why do children suffer?
“Why children suffer is a question that touches the heart,” he added, asking his devotees to pray for them.
Although he was treated in a private hospital, Italy has a national public health service and residents can often receive treatment in private facilities with costs reimbursed by the government.
As usual on Sundays, François spoke about current events and the problems close to his heart. In his remarks on the balcony, he reiterated his closeness to the Haitian people by recalling the assassination last week of the president of the country and the injury of the first lady. François prayed that Haitians could “begin to embark on the path of a future of peace and harmony”.
The environmental fragility of the world has been a major theme of his papacy since his beginnings in 2013. On Sunday, as countless people vacation on the shore, Francis urged people to look after “the health of the seas.”
“No plastic in the sea!” pleaded the Pope.
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Without citing specific problems, he also expressed the hope that “Europe can be united in its founding values”, a possible reference to the tensions between the leaders of the European Union and member Hungary over the repression of LGBTQ rights.
Besides his apparent quick recovery, Francis had another reason to smile on Sunday.
Argentina beat Brazil 1-0 in the Copa America soccer final on the night. Francis is a huge football fan and has roots for the San Lorenzo team in his hometown of Buenos Aires.
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