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Pope Francis greets a sick child as he visits poor, sick people at a center run by the CasAmica Onlus organization on the outskirts of Rome Dec. 7. The visit continued the pope's tradition of doing Friday works of mercy. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

ROME (CNS) -- Pope Francis made surprise visits Dec. 7 and 8 to people receiving medical care far from their homes, to a dozen intellectually challenged young people and to the staff of a major Rome newspaper.

The late-afternoon visits Dec. 7 to the CasAmica residence for families with a member needing long-term medical care far from home and to Il Ponte e l'Albero, a therapeutic rehabilitation home, were part of the pope's continuing "Mercy Friday" activities.

Pope Francis began the Friday visits to hospitals, clinics, schools and residential communities during the 2015-16 Year of Mercy to demonstrate that mercy involves concrete acts of kindness and solidarity.

Both the CasAmica and Il Ponte e l'Albero are on the extreme southern edge of Rome.

The Vatican said most of the guests at the CasAmica are Italian families, mostly from the south, who cannot afford to stay in a hotel or rent an apartment while their family members are receiving treatment for cancer, leukemia or other serious illnesses. A few of the families, though, come from North Africa and from Eastern Europe.

"The pope rang the doorbell and was welcomed by the personnel on duty, who were dumbstruck at the unexpected visit," the Vatican said. Some of the guests were in the kitchen and some children were in the playroom. "The Holy Father stopped to play and joke with them" before listening to the parents of some sick children and offering them words of comfort.

The visit to Il Ponte e l'Albero came in response to a letter from some of the young people describing "the daily difficulties that come from their mental disadvantages," as well as their desire and efforts to follow the programs their doctors have designed for them.

The pope rang the doorbell and was welcomed by the personnel on duty, who were dumbstruck at the unexpected visit.

According to a Vatican statement, the pope sat with the young people, listened to them, responded to their questions and encouraged them. The parents of some of the young people heard the pope was there and arrived in time to embrace him and thank him for the visit.

His visit to the newspaper, Il Messaggero, Dec. 8 also came in response to an invitation. The newspaper is marking its 140th anniversary.

Pope Francis stopped at the newspaper's headquarters in the center of Rome just after leading prayers for the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

In a video of the visit, posted by the newspaper, Pope Francis confirmed Il Messaggero is his preferred daily paper, even though, he said, "I've been advised against" reading it by some people.

"I wish you the best -- another 140 years," he told the staff.

Pope Francis said journalism should be a service, "explaining things without exaggeration, always looking for the concrete."

Discover the facts, report them and then comment on them, he said. "This is the kind of information we all need."

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Tim Donovan
5 years 7 months ago

I have always admired Pope Francis for visiting the vulnerable during Mercy Fridays. My late aunt in December, 1994, had surgery for brain cancer. Sadly, the cancer was terminal, and my aunt, who had long been a widow and never had children, moved into my parents home. My parents and me, along with dedicated hospice staff, did our best to care for my aunt's physical needs (giving her morphine for pain and other medications, taking her to doctor appointments, and as her abilities declined, assisting her with getting dressed and being toileted). We also on occasion took my aunt out to lunch, as well as had at her request our parish pastor speak to her and give her consolation through the Sacraments of Reconciliation followed by the Eucharist. My aunt went into a coma on her birthday, the feast of St. Joseph, March 19, and died peacefully several days later. Although it 's a small effort, each week when I eat at McDonald's I contribute small amounts of cash to a collection container for the Ronald McDonald House, which provides housing in hospitals for families of seriously ill children. I also collect soda and beer tabs for a friend who then donates them to the Ronald McDonald House for their upkeep. I worked in various capacities with people with disabilities for over twenty five years. When I worked in a group home with several disabled men, I was pleased to take one of the residents who had no family members nearby to visit him to my home on holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter). My disabled friend enjoyed spending time with different people as well as the caring attention of my family members. I commend Pope Francis for his visits to disabled people. Such people are frequently ignored by others, or are victims of discrimination in terms of employment and housing in our society. Also, their very right to life is often denied, as many unborn human beings who are found to be disabled are killed by the violence of legal abortion.

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