Pope Francis visits children in hospital, will be discharged on Saturday

April 1, 2023 - 1:59 PM
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Pope Francis baptises a baby boy called Miguel Angel as he visits the children's cancer ward at the Gemelli hospital where he is hospitalised for a respiratory infection in this screengrab taken from a video, in Rome, Italy March 31, 2023. (Vatican Media/Handout via Reuters)

 Pope Francis baptized a baby and greeted children in Rome’s Gemelli hospital on Friday as he appeared to make a rapid recovery from a bout of bronchitis that caused him to be hospitalized earlier this week.

Francis will return home on Saturday, the Vatican said, and is scheduled to take part in a Palm Sunday service the following day to mark the start of Easter Week celebrations.

“After evaluating the results of the examinations carried out today and the favorable clinical progress, (the medical team) has confirmed the Holy Father’s discharge from the Gemelli Hospital tomorrow,” a Vatican statement said.

The pope, 86, was taken to hospital two days ago after complaining of breathing difficulties. He was diagnosed with bronchitis and has responded well to an infusion of antibiotics, his medical team has said.

Highlighting the pope’s improved health, the Vatican released a video showing him standing up and baptizing a baby who was in a hospital cot. In a separate photograph, Francis was shown handing an Easter egg to a young child.

The Vatican said he stayed around 30 minutes in the children’s cancer and neurosurgery wards before returning to his own room.

The dean of the college of cardinals, Giovanni Battista Re, has said cardinals will help the pope during Easter celebrations this coming week and take care of altar duties.

Holy Week, as it is known, includes a busy schedule of rituals and ceremonies that can be physically exhausting, including a Good Friday nighttime procession by Rome’s Colosseum.

The pope was also forced to follow some of last Easter’s events seated, due to persistent knee pain, with cardinals celebrating some of the Masses in his place.

Francis, who marked the 10th anniversary of his pontificate earlier this month, has suffered a number of ailments in recent years. He was last hospitalized in July 2021 when he had part of his colon removed in an operation aimed at addressing a painful bowel condition called diverticulitis.

“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,” the pope tweeted on Friday.

In a sign of confidence over the pope’s health, the Catholic Church in Marseille said in a statement the pontiff would visit the southern French city on Sept. 23, and attend a meeting of bishops and youths from around the Mediterranean.

—Writing by Crispian Balmer, Gavin Jones and Alvise ArmelliniEditing by Alison Williams, Peter Graff and Frances Kerry