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Aleteia joins Melania Trump on visit to “the Pope’s” pediatric hospital

Photo by Diane Montagna
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First Lady lays flowers at the feet of Mary, visits with children, and spends time alone in prayer (PHOTOS)

ROME — After meeting Pope Francis on Wednesday morning at the Vatican, US President Donald Trump’s wife, Melania, visited the Vatican-run Bambino Gesù pediatric hospital, where she laid flowers at the feet of Our Lady, visited the children, and spent time praying alone in the hospital chapel.

The First Lady also made a private visit to the hospital’s cardiac intensive care unit.

This correspondent was chosen to take part in the press pool, so we got a close up look at Melania Trump’s visit. Here are the highlights:

The First Lady’s arrival at “the Pope’s hospital”

The First Lady arrived at the Bambino Gesù hospital at 11:20 a.m., where she was warmly greeted with flowers by two children: Maria Antonietta and Maurizio.

After greeting the president of the hospital, who accompanied Melania Trump on her visit, she laid flowers at the feet of a statue of Our Lady, made the sign of the Cross, and paused silently before Mary.

Founded by the Salviati family in 1869, the Bambino Gesù pediatric hospital is the largest children’s hospital and research center in Europe. It has four locations in Rome, with its historical headquarters located on the Gianicolo Hill, just next to the North American College. To ensure that the hospital would always continue to serve the children of Rome, in 1924 the Salviatis donated the hospital to Pope Pius XI. That is how the Bambino Gesù came to be known as “the pope’s hospital.”

“My husband’s great grandfather and great grandmother started this hospital with four beds and five nuns in one room, and then once it grew, they came here and gave it to the pope,” Duchess Maria Grazie Salviati told Aleteia.

Curious to meet the First Lady, the Italian Duchess said she had watched the Trumps’ visit with the Pope on the internet, and said Melania Trump was “very elegant” and so “appropriate.”

“The pope was smiling,” she added. “I think he liked her.”

Visiting the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit

After her arrival, the First Lady was escorted to the hospital’s cardiac intensive care unit, where she made a private visit with the children, even very little ones, who have undergone heart surgery, heart transplants, and artificial heart implants. In 2012, the Department was responsible for the implantation of the smallest artificial heart ever (11gr.) in a 16-month old child.

“Her focus was on the children,” a White House source told Aleteia. “She wanted this visit to be about them.”

In the Recreation Room

After her visit to the cardiac intensive care unit, the First Lady was given a warm welcome by 15 children, ages 5-16, from 9 countries (Italy, countries of Africa, Philippines, Iraq, Lebanon, Macedonia, Morocco, Nepal and Ukraine) in the pediatric hospital’s recreation room.

The children are suffering with oncological conditions, chronic illnesses, genetic diseases, or have had an organ transplant, but the spirit in the room was peaceful and lively.

Greeting the children in Italian with a “Ciao, come stai?” [i.e. Hello. How are you?], the First Lady sat down with the children and connected with each of them in a very feminine and personal way.

A little girl sitting at the table, with a bandage on the back of her hand (perhaps from an intravenous therapy), spoke up and said: “Melania … my hand is hurting.” The First Lady immediately replied: “What if I draw a heart on it, perhaps that will make it feel better.” Once the heart was drawn, she asked: “Is it better?” to which the little girl replied, “yes.” Then another girl said: “My hand hurts, too…”

One source close to Melania Trump told Aleteia: “She’s very warm and generous and loves children. Her focus is on them individually and not on what’s around her, and it’s very genuine.”

A number of the boys and girls asked to take selfies with the First Lady.

But one little boy, who didn’t have a phone, was concerned that he would not have a copy of the photo taken of the two of them together. The First Lady leaned down to reassure the boy, saying they and the hospital staff would make sure to send the photo to him through his father.

Photo by Diane Montagna

The children offered the First Lady several gifts, including a wooden statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and a poster that read: “All the children are the same.”

“I have gifts for you, too,” she said, presenting the children with puzzles portraying the White House and cherry blossoms, and blue backpacks filled with coloring books and other items.

After spending 25 minutes with the young patients, the First Lady signed the visitors’ book, writing: “Great visiting you! Stay strong and positive! Much love, Melania Trump” and drew a flower and heart.

The First Lady and the children then posed for a photo together, and the children thanked her for the visit.

Time alone with the Lord

Melania Trump’s last stop on her visit was the Bambino Gesù chapel. The oldest part of the hospital, the chapel dates back 150 years and is home to Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament. The First Lady was accompanied to the chapel by Duchess Maria Grazie Salviati and the hospital chaplain.

On entering the chapel, she blessed herself with holy water, lit a candle, and learned about the history of the chapel.

After a few minutes, and after journalists and photographers were asked to leave, Melania Trump was left all alone to pray.

Aleteia learned after the visit that the special request was made this morning. “She wanted to have some private time for prayer and reflection on her experience here, and the day as a whole.”

Asked about the First Lady’s visit to the Vatican and her meeting with the Pope, we were told: “It’s been a very moving experience for her.”

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