“Miguel Ángel”. It was with a soft voice that a mother from Peru introduced her newborn son to Pope Francis. It was a most unexpected moment: her baby’s baptism in the crib of a room in wing D of Rome’s “Agostino Gemelli” hospital. And baptizing Miguel Ángel, was the Pope himself: who would have thought? Certainly not a young mother who, in those hours, hopes only to be discharged from the hospital and go home with her baby.
Pope Francis approached the young woman, delicately asking her the sleeping baby’s name. “Michelangelo”, she replied, before correcting herself with a maternal smile: “Miguel Ángel”, thus embodying the Pope’s intuition regarding the transmission of faith which in families, he says, must happen “in dialect”.
For Miguel Ángel, Christian life began on Friday, 31 March 2023, in the hospital, surrounded by the wonder of those present. The wonder that will remain when he is all grown up, looking at the photographs and listening to his family members recount that moment: “We were there, tired, when the door opened and the Pope walked in and baptized you”.
“Miguel Ángel, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”, were the Pope’s words as he sprinkled the baby with water from a typical tray used to hold sterile instruments in medical wards and laboratories. And, awakened by the water, Miguel Ángel “responded” by crying. Pope Francis was the first to try to soothe him by gently caressing his tiny face. Then he blessed him and whispered to the mother, “He is a Christian now. When you go to the parish, tell them the Pope baptized him”.
The Pope baptizing a newborn in a place of suffering — where they were both patients — is the simple and powerful sign of life to accompany this Holy Week.
In the afternoon of 31 March, Pope Francis also visited the children in the pediatric oncology and the pediatric neurosurgery wards. Stopping in each of their rooms, he gave them chocolate Easter eggs as a reminder that even — and perhaps, especially — in situations of pain, Easter is the most important Christian celebration. The Pope also gave them copies of a children’s book about the infant Jesus, their “peer”, by Filippo M. Grasso and Auxiliary Bishop of Rome Daniele Libanori.
Pope Francis offered words of encouragement to families who, alongside their children, are going through heartbreaking experiences at the hospital, struggling not to lose hope. He gave them Rosaries to pray, especially in moments of discomfort and acute suffering and expressed his gratitude to medical personnel for their selflessness and spirit of service. After his visit, the Pope returned to the ward where he had been staying since Wednesday afternoon, 29 March, to be treated for bronchitis.
On his final day at the hospital, Pope Francis received the Eucharist and prayed in the small chapel of his private suite on the 10th floor. He was discharged on Saturday afternoon, 1 April, after successful treatment.