Today, Pope Francis’ Wednesday general audience included two remarkable moments in which the Holy Father’s compassion for the sick and suffering shone through.
The first came during the Francis’ audience address. After discussing the centrality of the sacraments and the grace of the Holy Spirit to the Christian life, he asked those assembled for “an act of charity”:
Before coming into the Square I went to see a little girl, a year and half old, who is gravely ill. Her father and mother are praying, and asking the Lord to heal this beautiful little girl. Her name is Noemi. The poor little dear was smiling! Let us perform an act of love. We do not know her, but she is a baptized child, she is one of us, she is a Christian. Let us perform an act of love for her and in silence ask the Lord for his help in this moment and that he give her health. In silence one moment, and then we will pray the “Hail Mary”. And now all together let us pray to Our Lady for the health of Noemi. Hail Mary….
Catholic News Service has some background information on little Noemi and her family:
Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, assistant director of the Vatican press office, told reporters the pope had met the baby and her parents at his residence.
Vatican Radio interviewed her father, Andrea Sciarretta, who said his daughter has spinal muscular atrophy. The family, he said, was invited by the pope to visit the Vatican, pray with him, spend the night and share their meals with him.
Sciarretta and his wife have been in the news in Italy because of their efforts to persuade doctors to allow Noemi to be treated with a new, largely untested and unapproved stem-cell treatment.
The second extraordinary moment came after the Holy Father’s address. Moving through the crowd and greeting the assembled pilgrims, Francis paused to embrace and bless a man severely disfigured by boils. From Catholic News Agency:
The man was identified as suffering from neurofibromatosis, which causes great pain and can result in impaired vision, learning impairment, and even cancer, according to non-profit research group Mayo Clinic. Treatment of the condition is very complicated.
People with this disease – which is genetic and not contagious – often face discrimination because of their appearance.
As he carried out his typical greeting of pilgrims at the conclusion of the general audience, Pope Francis paused for several minutes to receive the sick man in his arms.
Moments later, he took the man’s face in his hands, kissed him, and gave him a blessing.
Vatican Insider has several images of the encounter, including this one: