Pope Francis on Sunday made his first public appearance since major intestinal surgery last week, greeting well-wishers as he stood for 10 minutes on a hospital balcony, thanking the many people praying for his recovery and endorsing health care for all as a “previous thing.”
Francis, 84, has been steadily on the mend, according to the Vatican, following his July 4 scheduled surgery to remove a portion of his colon that had narrowed due to inflammation.
The Vatican hasn’t said just when the pope might be discharged. The morning after his surgery, a Holy See spokesperson said his hospital stay was expected 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 Gemelli Polyclinic at noon local time. But he smiled broadly at those gathered below, including hospital patients well enough to temporarily leave their rooms to cheer for him.
Noon is the hour when traditionally he would have appeared from a window at the Vatican overlooking St. Peter’s Square to recite the Angelus, or prayer. Exactly a week earlier in his public remarks, he had given no hint that in a few hours he would enter the hospital for surgery.
“I am happy to be able to keep the Sunday appointment of the Angelus, even here from Gemelli Polyclinic,” Francis said. “I thank everyone. I felt your closeness and the support of your prayers.”
“Thank you from my heart!” exclaimed the pontiff, smiling as he peered over the railing to better see the faithful below.
Standing on the balcony with him were some children who are also hospitalized at Gemelli, a major Catholic teaching hospital on the outskirts of Rome. The crowd below clapped often in encouragement.
Francis underwent three hours of surgery under general anesthesia the evening of July 4, and later that night was described by the Holy See as having responded well.
Reading from prepared remarks, he kept one or both hands on a lectern for support, including when he raised an arm in blessing.
The pope praised the “tenderness” of those who care for the sick, which he said was “like a caress that makes you feel better, eases the pain and picks you up.”
“In these days of hospitalization, I experienced yet again how important a good health service is, accessible to all, as it is in Italy and other countries,” Francis said.
“We mustn’t lose this precious thing,” the pope said. He added that “sometimes it happens in the (Catholic) church that some health care institution, because of poor management, doesn’t go well economically, and the first thought that comes to our mind is to sell it. But the vocation in the church is not to have money, it’s to give service.”