ROME -- Pope Francis made a surprise visit to an elderly woman in Rome over the weekend, greeting fans in the process.
Francis arrived discreetly in a blue Ford Focus to visit his acquaintance, an elderly woman who had repeatedly asked to see him but is physically unable to make the journey to the Vatican, Vatican News reported. The pope was accompanied by a few Vatican and Italian plain-clothes policemen, who stood guard at the entrance to the building while the pope was inside visiting, Italian news agency DIRE reported.
Although the street was mostly deserted due to summer vacation and high temperatures, about a dozen people spotted the pope, dressed in his white papal attire, as he got out of the car and went into the building. Many waited to greet him after his visit as well.
The pope's home visit lasted about an hour, and as he left the building he stopped to shake the hands of the people gathered outside, as is his custom. Overcome with the emotion of seeing the pope so unexpectedly, a woman began crying and told him, "What an immense joy this is, Holy Father!" to which he replied, "For me too!" DIRE reported.
Francis paused to play with a child, Vatican News reported, and a sick man in the same housing complex came down to see the pope and ask for his prayers. The pope hugged him and then blessed all of those present before departing.
Francis has repeatedly spoken in public about the importance of respecting elderly people during his five-year papacy, preaching that society must cherish and learn from its elders and not "discard" or abandon them.
His surprise visits to hospitals, care centers and charities in Rome are usually confirmed after they have taken place. It is rare that the pope leaves the Vatican for unscheduled or private reasons. Since becoming pope, he has only been seen going to a few stores in Rome to take care of personal shopping needs, such as when he visited an optician in the center of the city in September 2015 to fix his glasses.
As is his tradition since becoming pope, Francis vacations in the Vatican each July and all public ceremonies and weekly public audiences are canceled throughout the month.
On the first Wednesday of August, he resumed his weekly public audiences indoors due to the heat. Traditionally, the audiences are held in St. Peter's Square the rest of the year.