Yesterday morning Pope Francis visited the Santa Marta Dispensary, which has for ninety years provided medical assistance and other forms of help to children and families in need, of all beliefs and nationalities. The location of the institution, established in 1922 by Pope Pio XI, has changed on a number of occasions throughout history and it is now based in the San Carlo Palace, very close to the Santa Marta guesthouse, the Pope's residence.
The Pope then proceeded to the Paul VI Hall where he was awaited by 800 people, including volunteers and families assisted by the Dispensary. Shortly after his arrival, a group of nine children prepared a portrait of Francis, with the greeting “Auguri”, best wishes. The Holy Father will celebrate his 77th birthday in three days' time and so another group of children at Santa Marta, each dressed in a white shirt with a large letter printed on it in yellow, lined up to form the phrase “Auguri Papa Francesco” (“Best wishes, Pope Francis”), and sang “Happy Birthday” to him while a cake, baked in the Dispensary and complete with candles, was brought into the hall. The Pope, surprised, rose onto his feet, blew out the candles, and received the gift of a pullover.
“Thank you for this visit!” he said. “Thank you for your love, for the joy of these children, the gifts, the cake … which was beautiful! Afterwards I will tell you whether it was good or not! Many thanks, and may the Lord bless you”.
There are currently 270 families assisted by the Santa Marta Dispensary, to which 22 doctors offer their service, and which throughout 2013 treated more than 3,500 people. The centre also receives the support of 25 volunteers and the collaboration of the paediatric hospital Bambin Gesù and other hospitals in Rome, such as the Vatican Pharmacy and the Vatican Health Care Fund. It is also assisted by the Saints Peter and Paul Association, the “Opera Pia Pro Infantia” Roman Society and the Food Bank. In 2008, following a Chirograph of Pope Benedict XVI, it took on the form of an Autonomous Foundation and its activity became formally an expression of the charity of the Pope and the Holy See. By statute the Foundation, the management of which is entrusted to the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, is presided by the Almoner of His Holiness, currently Archbishop Konrad Krajewski.