The San Juan Daily Star
Pope Francis is in hospital and will stay for several days
By Jason Horowitz and Elisabetta Povoledo
Pope Francis will be hospitalized for several days for treatment of a respiratory infection, the Vatican said Wednesday, raising concerns over the health of the pontiff, who is 86 and has a recent history of medical challenges.
“In recent days Pope Francis complained of some respiratory difficulties, and this afternoon he went to Policlinico A. Gemelli for some medical checks,” Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni said in a statement, referring to the Rome hospital that traditionally treats popes. “The outcome of these showed a respiratory infection (excluding COVID-19 infection) that will require several days of appropriate hospital medical treatment.”
He added, “Pope Francis is touched by the many messages received and expresses his gratitude for the closeness and prayer.”
After his morning audience, Francis — who as a young man survived severe pneumonia and had part of a lung removed — was taken in an ambulance to the Gemelli hospital and underwent a chest CT scan and other tests, the Italian news agency ANSA reported. His entourage expressed “relief” at the results of the medical checks, the news agency said, including his blood’s oxygen saturation, which was apparently fine. Earlier in the day, the Vatican said the hospital visit had been planned.
“The Holy Father has since this afternoon been at the Gemelli for some previously planned tests,” Bruni had said.
Francis, who became pope 10 years ago, has knee problems and sciatica that have caused a severe limp and have, in recent months, often required him to use a wheelchair. In the summer of 2021, he underwent major intestinal surgery.
Francis said at the beginning of his pontificate that he envisioned serving only a few years and has since said repeatedly that he would resign if failing health made it impossible for him to run the church. Soon after he was elected, he praised his predecessor, Benedict XVI, the first pope in almost 600 years to resign, for having the courage to step down.
But after his surgery in 2021, Francis told a Spanish-language radio station that he had never thought about quitting while suffering from poor health. And more recently, he has said he viewed the pontificate as a lifelong mission.
“I believe that the pope’s ministry is ad vitam,” he told a group of Jesuits in Congo last month, using the term “for life” in Latin. “I see no reason why it should not be so.” He added that retirement was, for the moment, not on his “agenda” and said, “Think that the ministry of the great patriarchs is always for life! And the historical tradition is important.”
Since his knee gave out, Francis has depended, at first seemingly reluctantly, on others to move around. He sometimes uses a cane but also leans on aides and relies on a specific butler to put him in and lift him out of a wheelchair. On foreign trips, he now uses an elevator to get on and off the plane, but he has kept up his ambitious travel. In early February, he traveled to Congo and South Sudan.
In an interview in January, Francis told The Associated Press that bulges in his intestinal wall had “returned.” In 2021, the pope had roughly 13 inches of his large intestine removed because of what the Vatican said was inflammation that caused a narrowing of his colon. Otherwise, he said he was in good shape for his age; a fall had led to a slight bone fracture in his knee, but it healed without surgery.
“I’m in good health. For my age, I’m normal,” he said, adding in a frequent flourish, “I might die tomorrow, but it’s under control. I’m in good health.”
The pope also has problems with sciatica, a chronic nerve condition that causes back, hip and leg pain and makes him walk with a limp. Flare-ups of that condition have forced him to cancel or modify high-profile appearances.
Speaking to reporters on a papal plane in 2014, he said, “I know this will last a short time, two or three years, and then to the house of the Father.” In 2015, he said he saw himself serving as pope for about another five years.
Francis is scheduled to begin a busy series of ceremonies in the coming days, including Palm Sunday this weekend, followed by Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday on April 9.