Saturday audiences and new head of Vatican health service

VATICAN CITY — Two pieces of small, but interesting news came out of the Vatican Saturday.

First, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, prefect of the papal household, told Vatican Radio that during the jubilee Year of Mercy, which begins Dec. 8, Pope Francis will add a general audience to his schedule one Saturday each month.

The pope already holds the audiences — open to the public with a free ticket — on Wednesdays except in July and when he is traveling.

(CNS/Paul Haring)

(CNS/Paul Haring)

“Clearly the general audience is an encounter Pope Francis likes a lot,” Archbishop Ganswein said. “You can see it.”

“The faithful see and hear the pope; there is direct contact — for many it will be the only time in their lives,” the archbishop said.

The second bit of news was an announcement that Pope Francis has named an endocrinologist to be the new director of Vatican’s Department of Health and Hygiene, a fully-staffed and comprehensive national health service for the Vatican.

Dr. Alfredo Pontecorvi, the new director, teaches at the medical school of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart and its Agostino Gemelli hospital in Rome. He replaces Dr. Patrizio Polisca, a cardiologist who has held the job since 2009.

Dr. Patrizio Polisca, former head of Vatican health service, in a 2011 file photo. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Dr. Patrizio Polisca, former head of Vatican health service, in a 2011 file photo. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Usually, the head of the Vatican health service also serves as personal physician to the pope and travels with the pope on foreign trips. But the office of personal physician to Pope Francis was not included in the announcement of Dr. Pontecorvi’s appointment.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters they would have to wait until September to see who would be the doctor traveling with Pope Francis to Cuba and the United States.

However, he said, Dr. Polisca will continue to serve as personal physician to retired Pope Benedict XVI, who has a pacemaker.

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