The Christmas season is usually a time of joy, celebration, and togetherness. Unfortunately, not every family gets to celebrate the festive season together. At the Bambino Gesù pediatric hospital in Rome, hundreds of children and their families are facing what may be the most difficult time of their lives. In the midst of the numerous challenges and suffering, the Pope’s very own hospital stands as a beacon of hope for families with sick children.
EWTN Vatican interviewed Tiziano Onesti, President of the Vatican’s pediatric hospital in Rome. Onesti expressed that the hospital gives hope, saying, “This morning, as I entered the hospital and stepped into the elevator, I passed a father with his child on a gurney. He told me that they had just had a transplant, and in the father’s eyes, I saw hope. This hope is precisely what the Bambino Gesù hospital gives to each patient and family each day.”
Instilling hope in its youngest patients is what the hospital’s president defines as the institution’s most crucial mission, particularly during the Christmas season. He emphasizes the importance of his staff supporting and accompanying children through what may be the most difficult time of their lives.
“During the Christmas season,” Onesti said, “we try to send the children home, but many, unfortunately, have to stay here. So we try to let them live lives as close to normal as possible. For instance, we are now in a playroom where the children get to further their growth and maintain hope.”
Founded in 1869 by Roman Duchess Arabella Salviati, the Bambino Gesù hospital is one of the oldest and most renowned children’s hospitals in the world. In 1924, the Salviati family donated the institution to Pius XI, making it the “Pope’s hospital,” and is to this day under the direct governance of the Holy See.
Onesti explained, “The Salviati family suggested that the hospital be named after the Child Jesus, symbolizing every child and reflecting the hospital’s dedication to the smallest, most vulnerable, and defenseless, and their families. This is the spirit which animates us in carrying out the hospital’s mission, which, as we are always reminded, is the hospital of the Pope.”
Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has been actively involved with the children’s hospital. His frequent visits and heartfelt interactions with the children and their families consistently highlight the significant place the hospital occupies in his regard.
The Pope has on many occasions emphasized that the Bambino Gesù is unique not merely because it is affiliated with the Holy See or situated close to the Vatican. Instead, it stands out as a place where contemporary science, specialized care, and Christian hospitality come together in an unparalleled way.
Pope Francis, speaking about the Bambino Gesù hospital in a general audience, said, “I admire the passion and enthusiasm that you put into your care and research, and I wish that you never lose the ability to catch sight of the suffering face of a child behind an analysis sample, and to hear the cry of parents within your laboratories. May the mystery of children’s suffering never cease to speak to your consciences and continue to motivate your human and professional commitments.”
In the last decades, the hospital has become known for its high level of specialization in the treatment of children coming not only from Italy or neighboring European countries but from the world over.
Onesti explained this unique character of the Bambino Gesù hospital, “We have several humanitarian and cultural exchanges of expertise with doctors in other countries. In total, we have developed initiatives in 16, less fortunate and more economically disadvantaged, countries all over the world, such some in the Far East like Cambodia, in Africa, or South America, where we have many types of collaborations.”
In addition to collaborating with local hospitals and sick shelters in poor countries in order to improve and provide healthcare, the Bambino Gesù hospital also works effortlessly to bring sick children to Rome at the requests of foreign governments or non-governmental organizations.
“We take in many children,” Onesti shared, “I’m thinking in particular about the Siamese twins from Central Africa who were born, excuse me for the somewhat brutal term, ‘attached’ by the head. We were able to separate them and now they live tranquil lives as they normally should.”
When noting the medical expertise of the hospital, one understands the immense care for each and every child under the care of the Bambino Gesù Hospital. Onesti explained, “We never abandon the children. But we don’t only take in children, we also take in families. (…) We shelter families for months, several months at the time, many times with really desperate cases, families who have nothing, who are poor, sometimes even destitute. We see to it that they can remain close to their children, and we work to take care of the welfare of their family. We aim to give them hope.”
Fundamentally, Onesti said further, “We really aim to give hope to the children and their families, to everybody. Even during the Christmas season, the hospital is always very well staffed, and we make sure that the children who have to stay here get to experience a holy Christmas as a time of family intimacy even though it is a difficult time in their lives.”
This article was written by Bénédicte Cedergren and edited by Jacob Stein.