“It was an incredible joy for me,” said Maria Alice Correia, of Switzerland, of her visit to see the Pope. Having had a lung transplant to reverse some of the damage caused by scleroderma, she wanted to give thanks. Others wanted to pray for healing. Some 50 patients attending the Federation of European Scleroderma Association aisbl (FESCA) World Scleroderma Congress, held in Rome on February 6-8, were taken to an audience with Pope Francis before the congress began. They were given special seating next to the papal dias, and Pope Francis came over to lay his hands in blessing on the heads of those sitting at the front of the group.
Even those not able to feel his touch or take the Holy Father’s hand were visibly moved. Tears mingled with the rain that fell in the Vatican. “As we arrived, we heard over the loudspeaker words of welcome for patients with scleroderma. It felt incredible that they were saying the name of my disease, that nobody knows, out loud in the Vatican,” said Marjo Makela of Finland.
Pope Francis had read the literature sent to him by FESCA aisbl about scleroderma, and he prayed for those who have the severe, rare and progressive disease, sending the following message to be read out at the Opening Ceremonies of the World Scleroderma Congress:
“His Holiness Pope Francis sends cordial greetings and good wishes to all taking part in the Third Systemic Sclerosis World Congress in Rome these days. He trusts that this exchange of experiences, research and future outlooks will prove fruitful for combating this devastating disease and providing effective care and support to patients and their families. Conscious of the generosity and dedication with which so many health care professionals throughout the world daily place their skills at the service of our brothers and sisters in need, he prays that, in confronting the mystery of human suffering, they will always find the strength to bring hope amid the contradictions of this world. Upon the participants in the World Congress, their colleagues, patients and families, the Holy Father invokes the Lord’s Blessings of joy and peace.”
As they looked down from the dias over St Peter’s Square, the FESCA aisbl group felt privileged beyond their expectations to have been close enough to this great pope to see his smile and feel his charisma, and to experience personally the strength of his blessing.