Pope Francis on Sunday made his first public appearance since major intestinal surgery last week.
He greeted well-wishers as he stood for 10 minutes on a hospital balcony in Rome, offering thanks for their prayers for his recovery and calling health care for all a “precious” good.
The pontiff, 84, has been steadily on the mend, according to the Vatican, following his scheduled surgery on July 4 to remove a portion of his colon that had narrowed because of inflammation.
However, the Vatican has not said when he could be discharged from Rome's Agostino Gemelli University Policlinic. On the morning after his surgery, a Holy See representative said Francis's hospital stay was expected to last seven days, “barring complications”.
At first, the pontiff’s voice sounded weak but he smiled broadly at the crowd gathered below, which included some fellow patients who were well enough to leave their rooms to cheer for him.
Noon is traditionally when Francis would appear at a window in the Vatican overlooking St Peter’s Square to recite the Angelus. He had given no hint a week earlier that he would be having surgery.
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 hospitalisation, 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 pontiff said. He added that “sometimes it happens in the Church that some healthcare institution, because of poor management, doesn’t go well economically, and the first thought that comes to our mind is to sell it,” he said.
“But the vocation in the Church is not to have money, it’s to give service.”
As he usually does on Sundays, Francis spoke of current events and of issues close to his heart. He reiterated his closeness to Haiti’s people, as he recalled the assassination last week of its president and the wounding of its first lady. Francis prayed that the people of Haiti could “start going down a path toward a future of peace and of harmony”.
Pope Francis ended with his usual invitation “don’t forget to pray for me,” drawing rousing applause.