ROME (AP) — Pope Francis is expected to be discharged on Saturday from the Rome hospital where he is being treated for bronchitis as his recovery proceeds in a “normal” way, even had pizza for dinner and will be in St. Peter's Square for Palm Sunday Mass, the Vatican said.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni gave the update in a written statement on Friday. In a subsequent statement, Bruni said that Francis was due to be in the square for the Mass, which marks the start of Holy Week and ushers in a series of solemn public ceremonies that culminate on Easter on April 9.
Francis, 86, was hospitalized on Wednesday at Gemelli Polyclinic, where doctors said the pontiff was receiving antibiotics intravenously to treat his bronchitis.
“Yesterday went well, with a normal clinical recovery,'' Bruni said. “In the evening (of Thursday), Pope Francis had dinner, eating a pizza, together with all those who are assisting him in these days of the hospital stay,” the spokesman said, including doctors, nurses, assistants and Vatican security personnel.
On Friday morning, the pope read newspapers and resumed his work after breakfast.
The pontiff's return to the Vatican hotel where he lives "is expected for tomorrow, as a result of the last tests of this morning,'' Bruni said.
The spokesman later added that, given the pope would return to the Vatican on Saturday, Francis was expected to be present in the square for Palm Sunday Mass. He didn't indicate whether Francis would deliver a homily during the ceremony, a particularly long service, or if someone else might read it for him.
Medical staff decided to hospitalize him on Wednesday after he returned to his Vatican residence following his customary weekly public audience in St. Peter’s Square. The Vatican reported he had experienced difficult breathing in the previous days.
Bruni on Thursday evening said that antibiotic treatment for bronchitis had resulted in a “marked” improvement in his health.
Francis sent a tweet on Friday possibly inspired by his current health challenge.
“When experienced with faith, the trials and difficulties of life serve to purify our hearts, making them humbler and thus more and more open to God,” Francis wrote. The tweet carried a hashtag for Lent, the period of the liturgical year stressing penitence and sacrifice in the run-up to the joyous Church celebration of Easter, which marks the Christian belief that Jesus rose from the dead after his crucifixion.
The Vatican seemed keen to quickly dispel any worries about the pope's physical fitness to carry on fully with his duties. Nearly immediately after the announcement of a discharge date for Francis, the Vatican announced that the pope would meet the prime minister of Bosnia-Herzegovina on Monday in a private audience at the Apostolic Palace.
The hospitalization came four days before outdoor Palm Sunday Mass, which usually draws tens of thousands of faithful, flocking to Rome before Easter.
Francis had already largely stopped celebrating Mass at major Catholic Church holy days because of a chronic knee problem, but had continued to preside at the ceremonies and deliver homilies.
Italian Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re said Friday that Francis would be able to preside over — but not celebrate — Holy Week ceremonies.
The Holy Week appointments include a stamina-taxing late night Way of the Cross procession marked by prayers on Good Friday at the Colosseum in Rome and Easter Mass on April 9, which is traditionally followed by a long papal speech delivered from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica.
During Wednesday's hour-long public audience, Francis at times appeared visibly in pain when he moved about and was helped by aides.
In July 2021, Francis underwent surgery at Gemelli Polyclinic after suffering from a narrowing of his colon. As a young man in Argentina, Francis had part of a lung removed.
Frances D'emilio, The Associated Press