Tens of thousands of pilgrims are expected over the coming weeks
Ninety-two volunteers – doctors, nurses and paramedics – who for over 35 years have been daily assisting the numerous pilgrims arriving in St. Peter’s from all over the world. These are the numbers of the Order of Malta’s “First-Aid Post”, situated just a few metres from the forecourt of the basilica. First established for the Holy Year of 1950, with a tent set up alongside the colonnade in St. Peter’s Square, since 1975 the centre has a permanent structure in the Braccio di Carlo Magno, at the bottom of the stairs and not far from the Aula Paolo VI, which the pope normally uses for his general Wednesday audiences.
Five hundred people are treated every year by the Order of Malta’s doctors and nurses, coordinated by Professor Domenico Arduini, who explains how they’re preparing for the coming weeks when thousands of pilgrims are expected for the departure of Pope Benedict XVI and the election of the new pontiff: “Just today there were over 200,000 people in St. Peter’s Square for the pope’s last audience : we treated as many as 14 people, including a two-week-old baby”.
“For the Conclave,” Professor Arduini continues, “the First-Aid Post, working in close contact with the Vatican’s health services, could remain open all night if necessary”. Meanwhile, our normal number of 8 volunteers a day has been stepped up to 24”.
Open 365 days a year, the First-Aid Post also guaranteed assistance services during the official recognition of the Order of Malta’s 900 years on 9 February last in the Vatican. Five first-aid operations were performed and a patient transported to hospital during the celebration, for which over five thousands of the Order’s members and volunteers gathered in St. Peter’s Basilica.