ROME – Pope Francis’ penchant for calling people out of the blue is already the stuff of legend, and the “cold call pope” was back at it again recently, stunning a sick Italian seminarian with a call to promise prayers and to urge him not to lose hope.

The call to Antonio Esposito came on March 18 at 4:00 p.m., according to the regional Italian newspaper Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno. According to the report, Esposito answered his phone and was astonished to hear the pope on the other end of the line.

“Hi Antonio, good afternoon, sorry if I’m bothering you, but it’s Pope Francis,” Esposito reported hearing. “How are you?”

As often happens in these cases, Esposito said at first he thought the call was a prank. Quickly, however, he realized that very few people actually have the number Francis was calling, and that, plus the familiar-sounding voice, confirmed it was actually the pontiff.

Over his first three years as pope, unexpected phone calls have become a trademark Francis flourish. Journalists, politicians, Churchmen, and ordinary people alike have all been on the receiving end, often after having written the pope to request prayers or insight on some personal issue.

Esposito, 22, is studying for the priesthood for the diocese of Conversano-Monopoli, and is attending a regional Pontifical Seminary in the Italian city of Molfetta. He’s in his last year of studies, having already been ordained a deacon, and is currently battling an unidentified illness.

According to Esposito, the pope became aware of his illness after Esposito went to the Vatican pharmacy in early March to pick up medicines needed for his treatment. Somehow word got back to Francis that a seminarian was sick, and he decided to call to express his support.

“I know that you’re a good seminarian,” Esposito reported the pope saying, “that you’re committed to your studies and that you’re fighting this illness.”

“I want to tell you to keep your chin up, because the Lord is always with you and I will always pray for you.”

According to the report, Francis finished the brief call by giving Esposito his apostolic blessing, which he extended to all the members of his family.

News of the call was first revealed by the seminary on March 18, which issued the following statement.

“With great emotion, we communicate that that 4:00 p.m. the Holy Father, Francis, phoned our seminarian, Antonio Esposito, of the diocese of Conversano-Monopoli, regarding a health problem. The pontiff assured him of his support and his prayer. Moreover, he gave an apostolic blessing to him and his loved ones.”

“We too are praying with great faith,” the statement said, “certain of the help and the love that the Lord always gives us.”