VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis is expected to return home on Saturday after what will have been three nights in hospital with bronchitis, and will attend Palm Sunday services, the Vatican said.
The 86-year-old has responded well to antibiotics and on Thursday evening shared pizza with staff looking after him at Rome’s Gemelli hospital, spokesman Matteo Bruni said.
The Argentine pontiff, who had part of one lung removed as a young man, has suffered increasing health issues in recent years, and it was his second stay in hospital since 2021.
On Friday morning, he had breakfast, read some newspapers and did some work in the private papal suite on hospital’s 10th floor where he was admitted on Wednesday after complaining of breathing problems.
“His Holiness’s return home to Santa Marta (his Vatican home) is expected tomorrow, in the wake of the results of the latest tests this morning,” Bruni said on Friday.
He said Pope Francis was set to preside over Palm Sunday mass in St Peter’s Square, which marks the beginning of Holy Week and Easter, Christianity’s most important holiday.
This means the pope will stay seated while someone else - likely a senior cardinal - performs the ceremony at the altar. The mass is due to be followed by the pope’s regular Sunday Angelus prayer.
Francis’ hospitalisation, just weeks after he marked 10 years as head of the worldwide Catholic Church, had sparked widespread concern.
He has repeatedly said he would consider stepping down if his health failed him, following the example of his predecessor Benedict XVI - but said in February that for now, he had no plans to quit.
Eating and praying
The Vatican initially said Francis was hospitalised for pre-planned checks, before later revealing he had been complaining of breathing difficulties.
In a Vatican issued statement, medical staff said late Thursday that Francis was suffering from an “infectious bronchitis which required the administration of antibiotics”.
The treatment resulted in “a marked improvement in his state of health” and he was well enough to eat, work and pray at the private chapel in the hospital suite.
The Gemelli hospital is the favoured choice of pontiffs to the point of being dubbed “Vatican 3” by John Paul II, who was treated nine times at Gemelli and spent a total of 153 days there.
A Jesuit who seems most happy being among his flock, Francis continues to travel internationally and keep a busy schedule.
But he has been forced to use a wheelchair and walking stick in the past year because of knee pain, and admitted last summer that he had to slow down.
He said Thursday that he was “touched by the many messages” he was receiving in hospital, thanking on Twitter those praying for his recovery.
Among them is US President Joe Biden, only the second Catholic president in US history, who sent his “best wishes for his swift and full recovery”.
“The world needs Pope Francis,” Biden wrote on Twitter on Thursday.
Francis was admitted in July 2021 to the same Rome hospital for 10 days for a colon operation after suffering from a type of diverticulitis, an inflammation of pockets that develop in the lining of the intestine.
In an interview in January, the pope said the diverticulitis had returned.
His predecessor Benedict XVI shocked the world in 2013 by becoming the first pope since the Middle Ages to resign, citing his declining physical and mental health.
The German theologian died on December 31 aged 95.
Francis has said he would follow suit if he was unable to do his job, although he has cautioned that papal resignations should not be the norm.
He said in an interview in February that the idea was currently not “on my agenda”.
Yet a Vaticanist at the leading Corriere della Sera noted that with the pope’s hospitalisation, “speculation on the near future of his pontificate becomes less theoretical”.