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Vatican’s pediatric hospital opens new palliative care center

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Ospedale Bambino Gesù

I.Media - published on 03/23/22

The new facility at the Bambino Gesù Hospital, owned by the Vatican, is the largest palliative care center for children in Italy.

As euthanasia and the end of life are being debated in Europe, the Bambino Gesù Hospital – a famous Roman pediatric facility owned by the Holy See – opened a new palliative care center near Rome on March 22, 2022. I.MEDIA attended the inauguration of the facility, which currently houses Ukrainian refugees, in the presence of Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of the Holy See.

It’s a family atmosphere, you don’t feel like you’re in a hospital, you feel like you’re at home.

“It’s a pioneering facility, especially in terms of the number of beds available, but also for its atmosphere: it’s a family atmosphere, you don’t feel like you’re in a hospital, you feel like you’re at home,” said Cardinal Parolin at the inauguration of the facility, which will house terminally ill children and others requiring permanent care. “This type of illness should not isolate people but create more bonds of solidarity and closeness,” he added.

The new palliative care center is located in the small town of Passoscuro, about 30 kilometers from Rome. It will soon accommodate 30 patients and their families, making it the largest in Italy. In comparison, on the peninsula, there are currently only seven such centers, with a total of only 26 beds for patients.

Ukrainian patients

Another link with current events: the new facility has already welcomed five Ukrainian patients and their families fleeing the war. The Bambino Gesù hospital has been caring for some 60 patients and their families since their arrival in Italy. The five patients staying in palliative care center are children between the ages of 2 and 15 with various illnesses, including a cancer patient, a diabetic and another suffering from epilepsy.

The consequences of the war are paid for by the weakest, the most vulnerable people.

“The consequences [of the war] are paid for by the weakest, the most vulnerable people,” the cardinal said. Referring to the Ukrainian children who were taken in and saying he had “seen pictures,” he said that this kind of thing was “unacceptable.”

Referring to the ongoing war, the Secretary of State quoted the Pope, saying that “there is always the possibility of finding a solution, a solution that is honorable for all. However, he stressed that it is important to show “good will” in order to move forward today. And he reiterated the availability of the Holy See to collaborate to help end this war.

The new palliative care center.

A concrete response from the Church

Regarding the medical center, the cardinal said he hoped it would be “a powerful merciful embrace” capable of bringing “dignity and hope” to all those being treated, their families and the nursing staff.

“The Church insists so much on palliative care, […] but words are not enough,” the pope’s “right hand man” said. He stressed the importance of “giving concrete signs [and] offering concrete answers to those who find themselves in difficult situations.” He then added: “this is a concrete response.”

“The key word is life”

Today, families who have fled the war are welcomed in this new structure with bright and cheerful colors. On the walls, we find Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince and his adventures.

All the rooms are decorated in bright colors and equipped with convertible armchairs and sofas, a kitchenette and a bathroom, so that children and their families can be comfortably accommodated. Some rooms also offer a view of the sea.

“The key word is life; every work, every intervention is done to ensure the best possible quality of life for the child and his or her family,” Dr. Michele Salata, head of the center, explained to reporters. “Palliative care deals with the last moments of a person’s life, but we also deal with life,” he added.

35,000 children concerned in Italy

Specialists – psychologists, physiotherapists and nurses – will be available for the center’s patients at any time. In Italy, there are about 35,000 children, including 1,000 in the Lazio region, who need continuous medical assistance and cannot return home.

The center, which was formerly an elementary school run by the congregation of the Little Handmaids of the Sacred Heart, was renovated with donations from benefactors. Mariella Enoc, president of the Bambino Gesù hospital, Nicola Zingaretti, president of Lazio and Monsignor Gianrico Ruzza, bishop of the diocese of Porta Santa Ruffina, were also present with other local representatives at the inauguration.

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