Rome’s Gemelli hospital, where Pope Francis awaits surgery for an abdominal hernia, is the favoured choice of pontiffs to the point of being dubbed “Vatican III” by John Paul II.
The Polish pope, who was head of the Catholic church from 1978 until his death in 2005, was treated nine times at Gemelli and spent a total of 153 days there.
He quipped that “Vatican number one” was St Peter’s Square, Vatican number two was the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, and the Gemelli was number three.
John Paul II’s repeated and prolonged stays caused the Vatican to create a mini-residence on site, an apartment on the top floor that is accessed by a long corridor guarded by Italian and Vatican police.
According to Italian media, the suite is painted white and furnished simply. In addition to the pope’s room, there is a meeting room for medical staff, a kitchen, bathroom and rest areas.
There is also a small chapel.
The papal chamber was created from scratch in May 1981 when John Paul II was shot in St Peter’s Square by a young Turkish man, Mehmet Ali Agca, and rushed to Gemelli.
He underwent an operation lasting almost six hours to remove a bullet from his abdomen. He was also shot in his hand and arm, and two women in the crowd were also injured.
John Paul II returned to the hospital several times, though in the end he died at the Vatican on April 2, 2005.
Today his statue presides over the entrance of the hospital, the full name of which is the Fondazione Policlinico Universitario Agostino Gemelli.
However, Pope Benedict XVI never stayed at Gemelli — at least according to official announcements.
The German theologian resigned in 2013, citing his declining physical and mental health. He lived in a monastery in the grounds of the Vatican and died there on December 31, aged 95.
His successor, the Argentine Pope Francis, spent 10 days at Gemelli in July 2021 after undergoing surgery on his colon.
He was admitted for a second time in March for a respiratory infection, after complaining of breathing difficulties.
He stayed in for three nights and was treated with antibiotics.
Gemelli is the largest hospital in Rome, with more than 5,000 people working there, according to its website.
It is part of the University of the Sacred Heart, a Catholic facility founded in 1921 in the northern Italian city of Milan.
It is now considered the largest Catholic university in Europe, with several sites in Italy.