Pope Francis returned to the Vatican on Saturday morning after a three-day hospital stay during which he was treated for bronchitis, raising new concerns about the health of the aging pontiff, who underwent major surgery in 2021. and now often uses a cane or wheelchair. due to knee problems and sciatica.
Francis, 86, left the Policlinico A. Gemelli hospital in Rome around 10:30 a.m. He was admitted on Wednesday afternoon.
Before leaving the hospital grounds, Francis got out of the white Fiat 500 that would take him to the Vatican to thank journalists for their work and greet supporters, who cheered and waved. He signed the cast of a boy who had broken his arm playing soccer and prayed with a couple whose daughter had just died.
Andrea Scaracia, 45, an engineer from the southern region of Apulia, was among those waiting for the Pope outside the hospital.
“They discharged him and my daughter the same day. I hope it’s a good sign for him and her,” he said. “He is, of course, the Holy Father, and any Catholic wants to know that he is okay, but for Italians he is a little more than that. He is our father, our grandfather for the children. We want to know that he has recovered and is doing well.”
When Francis was asked how he was feeling, he replied with a smile: “He’s still alive, you know,” according to a video. posted on Twitter by CNN’s Vatican correspondent.
He had never felt fear, Francis told reporters.
He also talked about his visit to the young cancer patients at the hospital. “It’s the best, when you’re a priest, to be a priest, to be a pastor,” she said. And he praised the work of the medical staff. “You have to be heroic” to work in a hospital, he said. And you need tenderness.
After leaving the hospital, Francis went to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, where he prayed before a venerated icon of the Virgin Mary, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement. Francis also “offered a prayer” for the children he met in the oncology ward, the sick, and “those who suffer from illness or loss of loved ones,” the statement said.
Francis arrived at the Vatican a short time later, entering through a side entrance near the Casa Santa Marta, the guest house where he has lived for the 10 years of his papacy.
Outside the Vatican walls, he got out of the car again to greet a group of people who were waiting for him. After going back inside, he greeted a television crew from the national RAI station.
“Thank you for everything,” he said, speaking through the car window. “Happy Easter, and pray for me.”
Francis was expected to be present in St. Peter’s Square for the Palm Sunday mass on Sunday, but the Vatican did not say whether he would deliver the homily during the service, which will be officiated by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, vice dean of the College. of Cardinals.
Francis said Saturday that he would deliver the weekly Angelus prayer after Mass. And the Vatican said Francis would take part in all Holy Week celebrations, while different cardinals would celebrate at the altar.
John Cullinan, 60, an Irish tourist, visited St. Peter’s on Saturday with his wife, Margaret, and said he was happy the pope’s health had improved. “Okay,” Cullinan said. “Having the Easter celebration without him was hard to imagine.”
It was the Pope’s second stay in Gemelli, where John Paul II also received treatment during his pontificate. In 2021, part of Francis’ colon was removed as a result of intestinal inflammation called diverticulitis. This year, In an interview with The Associated Press, said the diverticulitis had returned.
But apart from recurring episodes of sciatica and problems in the right knee that have forced the cancellation of events and even trips, the Pope’s health has not given much cause for alarm.
Francis himself has been more forthcoming about his mortality, even as the Vatican remains mostly mum on papal health issues.
Speaking to reporters on a papal plane in 2014, he said: “I know this will last a short time, two or three years, and then to the Father’s house,” while in 2015 he said he saw himself serving as pope. . for about five more years.
He has also said he would consider resigning, as his predecessor Benedict XVI did in 2013, if failing health prevents him from leading the Roman Catholic Church. But he has also made it clear that he sees the pontificate as a lifelong mission.
“I believe that the Pope’s ministry is ad vitam”, told a group of Jesuits in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in February, using the Latin term “for life”. “I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be like this.” He added that retirement was not, at the moment, on his “agenda”.
On Saturday, the Pope seemed to be in a good mood.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Francis told reporters outside the hospital. “Rest, and thank you.”