After a three-night stay in the hospital for bronchitis treatment, Pope Francis was discharged on Saturday. On route, he stopped to greet well-wishers and joked that he was “still alive.”
The 86-year-old pontiff emerged from the car that was taking him to the Gemelli hospital in Rome on Wednesday and grinned and made jokes with the throng.
Asked by someone how he felt, he quipped twice with a big smile “I am still alive!”
After receiving applause from the crowds, Francis left for the Vatican to start making plans for Holy Week and Easter, the most significant week in the Christian calendar.
During a general audience in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday, the pope felt under the weather. Nevertheless, after receiving antibiotics, his condition became better.
According to a video released by the Vatican, the pope visited the hospital’s children’s oncology department on Friday, distributing Easter eggs and even baptizing a youngster who was just a few weeks old.
Francis was working and reading newspapers early on Friday in the hospital’s exclusive papal apartment on the 10th level, according to Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni. He shared a pizza on Thursday night with a few hospital employees.
The start of a jam-packed week of activities leading up to Easter will be Palm Sunday mass in St. Peter’s Square, which the Argentine pope confirmed on Saturday.
Francis’ hospitalisation was his second since 2021, when he underwent colon surgery, also at Gemelli.
His increasing health issues over the past year have sparked widespread concern, including speculation that he might choose to retire rather than stay in the job for life.
– ‘I was afraid’ –
His predecessor, Benedict XVI, quit in 2013, in a radical step not seen since the Middle Ages.
Visitors to St Peter’s Square on Friday expressed relief over his recovery.
“I was afraid for the pope,” said one 56-year-old Italian tourist who gave his name as Davide.
“But I’m happy he’s better, that he’s returning. For believers and the Catholic community, it’s important,” he added.
Francis marked 10 years as the head of the worldwide Catholic Church earlier this month.
He has pushed through major governance reforms and sought to forge a more open, compassionate Church, although he has faced internal opposition, particularly from conservatives.
– Presiding over mass –
He has stated numerous times that if his health were to fail, he would consider resigning; however, he stated last month that as of right now, he has no plans to do so.
Francis is anticipated to remain seated throughout Palm Sunday service as another priest, most likely a senior cardinal, administers the ceremony at the altar.
Francis was identified as having “infectious bronchitis,” which required antibiotics, according to the Vatican, which stated that the therapy had resulted in a “marked improvement in his condition of health.”
Pope John Paul II, who received care at Gemelli nine times and stayed a total of 153 days, dubbed the facility “Vatican 3” due of its popularity among pontiffs.
Francis, a Jesuit who enjoys being with his flock the most, keeps a busy schedule and travels worldwide frequently.
Yet due to knee discomfort, he has had to use a wheelchair and a walking stick during the past year and acknowledged last summer that he needed to slow down.
He thanked those who had been praying for his recovery on Twitter on Thursday, saying he had been “moved by the many messages” he had been getting while in the hospital.
Francis’ earlier stay at Gemelli in July 2021 lasted 10 days. He was admitted after suffering from a type of diverticulitis, an inflammation of pockets that develop in the lining of the intestine, that required surgery.
In an interview in January, the pope said the diverticulitis had returned.