Vatican says surprise visit highlights 'the great importance and preciousness of the elderly'

Pope Francis has made an unannounced, “private” visit to a retirement home and a home for people in a persistent vegetative state as part of his personal observance of the Year of Mercy.

The visits to the 33 residents of the Bruno Buozzi Retirement Home and the six residents of Casa Iride in Rome were announced with the hashtag #MercyFriday by the pontifical commission organising the Year of Mercy.

The Vatican previously announced that on one Friday each month during the Holy Year, Pope Francis would personally and privately perform a work of mercy.

The series ended up beginning very publicly on December 18 when he visited and celebrated Mass at a shelter run by the Rome diocesan Caritas.

For the January visit, journalists were not invited or even informed. Even the residents of the two facilities were not told in advance, said a statement issued by the Vatican press office once the pope had returned to the Vatican.

Pope Francis was accompanied by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, who is in charge of the jubilee organising committee. The archbishop’s office tweeted several photos of the Pope’s visit.

The Vatican described the atmosphere at the retirement home as one of “great surprise and joy” as the Pope greeted each resident and stopped to speak to them, one by one.

Both the retirement home and the Casa Iride are located in one of the poorer neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Rome.

The Vatican said Casa Iride is not a hospital or clinic, but is a family-style structure where residents can be cared for by their own family members with the support of the staff.

In choosing the two homes, the Vatican statement said, “Pope Francis wanted to highlight – in opposition to the ‘throwaway culture’ – the great importance and preciousness of the elderly and grandparents as well as the value and dignity of life in every situation.”

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