CRISPIAN BALMER and ALVISE ARMELLINI
POPE Francis’s health is improving after he was hospitalised with a respiratory infection and he has resumed working while treatment continues, the Vatican said on Thursday.
The pope was taken to hospital on Wednesday after complaining of breathing difficulties, raising fresh concerns over the health of the 86-year-old pontiff, who is suffering from a number of ailments.
“His Holiness Pope Francis rested well during the night. His clinical picture is gradually improving and he is continuing his planned treatment,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement.
“This morning after breakfast, he read some newspapers and resumed work,” he added. Indicating that Francis was not confined to his bed, the statement said he had prayed in the small chapel within his private hospital suite.
“I am touched by the many messages received in these hours and I express my gratitude for the closeness and prayer,” the pope wrote separately on Twitter.
Bruni did not say when Francis, who marked the 10th anniversary of his pontificate earlier this month, might leave Rome’s Gemelli hospital.
The Vatican said on Wednesday he was expected to spend a “few days” in hospital, calling into question his participation during the upcoming Holy Week, one of the busiest periods in the Church calendar, which kicks off with Palm Sunday on April 2.
Cardinals said they had been told by the Vatican that the pope would not preside over Easter services this year and that they would share out the ceremonies between them. Italian Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re told AGI news agency that Francis was expected to attend the main Mass on April 9.
Last year, the pope sat to one side during some of the Easter events due to persistent knee pain, leaving it to senior cardinals to lead the Masses.
Well-wishers in St. Peter’s Square urged a speedy recovery.
“We hope he will get well soon and celebrate the Easter Mass,” said a nun from Tanzania, Sister Faustina. “We really love him,” said a nun from Congo, Sister Michaela.
Prayers were held for Francis in his native Argentina, which has never returned to since his election as pope a decade ago.
“Day by day, with intensive work, unique in a Supreme Pontiff, he wears out his life for the service of the Church,” Father Alejandro Russo, rector of the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral, told his congregation.
“That is why we pray for the health of the pope without alarm because we know that this is a slight pause.”
ANSA news agency, quoting unnamed hospital sources, said doctors had “for now” ruled out heart problems and pneumonia for Francis. The Vatican has also said he does not have COVID-19.
Francis is sometimes short of breath and exposed to respiratory problems. He had part of one lung removed in his early 20s when training to be a priest in Argentina.
The pope also suffers from diverticulitis, a condition that can infect or inflame the colon, and had an operation at the Gemelli hospital in 2021 to remove part of his colon.
He said in January that the condition had returned, but that he was not overly concerned. He did not elaborate. In addition, he has a problem with his right knee and alternates between using a cane and a wheelchair in his public appearances.
His latest hospitalisation has revived speculation over a possible resignation on health grounds, following the historic precedent of his predecessor Benedict XVI, who died in December.
However, Francis has indicated he would follow the example only if he were gravely incapacitated.
Asked by Italian Swiss television RSI in an interview broadcast on March 12 what condition would lead him to quit, he said: “A tiredness that doesn’t let you see things clearly. A lack of clarity, of knowing how to evaluate situations.”