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After pizza and prayer, the pope is about to leave the hospital on Saturday

Pope Francis is expected to return home on Saturday after what will have been three nights in hospital for bronchitis, and will attend Palm Sunday services, the Vatican has announced.

The 86-year-old responded well to antibiotics and shared pizza with the staff caring for him at Rome’s Gemelli Hospital on Thursday evening, spokesman Matteo Bruni said.

The Argentine pontiff, who had part of a lung removed as a youth, has suffered from increasing health problems in recent years, and this was his second hospital stay since 2021.

On Friday morning, he ate breakfast, read newspapers and worked in the private papal suite on the 10th floor of the hospital where he was admitted on Wednesday after complaining of respiratory problems.

“His Holiness’s return to Santa Marta (his home in the Vatican) is expected tomorrow, following the results of the latest tests this morning,” Bruni said Friday.

He said Pope Francis was due to preside over Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square, which marks the start of Holy Week and of Easter, Christianity’s most important holiday.

This means the pope will remain seated while someone else – likely a senior cardinal – performs the ceremony at the altar. The mass must be followed by the regular prayer of the Pope’s Sunday Angelus.

Francis’ hospitalization, just weeks after celebrating 10 years as head of the global Catholic Church, had sparked widespread concern.

He has repeatedly said he would consider resigning if his health fails, like his predecessor Benedict XVI, but said in February that for now he was not considering resigning.

– Eat and pray –

The Vatican first said Francis had been hospitalized for pre-scheduled check-ups, before later revealing he was complaining of breathing difficulties.

In a statement released by the Vatican, medical staff said Thursday evening that Francis suffered from “infectious bronchitis which required the administration of antibiotics.”

The treatment resulted in “a marked improvement in his condition” and he was well enough to eat, work and pray in the private chapel in the hospital suite.

Gemelli Hospital is the preferred choice of pontiffs to the point of being nicknamed “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 happiest to be among his flock, Francis continues to travel abroad and keep a busy schedule.

But he has been forced to use a wheelchair and cane for the past year due to knee pain and admitted last summer he had to slow down.

He said he was “touched by the many messages” he received at the hospital on Thursday, thanking those who prayed for his recovery on Twitter.

Among them is US President Joe Biden, only second Catholic president in US history, who sent his “best wishes for his speedy and full recovery”.

“The world needs Pope Francis,” Biden wrote on Twitter Thursday.

– Rumors of resignation –

Francis was admitted in July 2021 to the same hospital in Rome for 10 days for colon surgery after suffering from a type of diverticulitis, an inflammation of the pockets that develop in the lining of the intestine.

In a January interview, the pope said diverticulitis was back.

His predecessor Benedict XVI shocked the world in 2013 when he became the first pope since the Middle Ages to step down, citing his declining physical and mental health.

The German theologian died on December 31 at the age of 95.

Francis said he would follow suit if unable to do his job, although he warned papal resignations should not be the norm.

He said in an interview in February that the idea was currently “not on my agenda”.

Still, a Vaticanist from the main Corriere della Sera noted that with the pope’s hospitalization, “speculation about the near future of his pontificate is becoming less theoretical.”



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