Pope Francis will be hospitalized for several days for treatment of a respiratory infection after experiencing difficulty breathing in recent days, the Vatican said on Wednesday.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said Francis, 86, does not have COVID-19, but needs several days of therapy.
“Pope Francis has been touched by the many messages received and expresses his gratitude for the closeness and prayers,” Bruni said in a statement.
The hospitalization was Francis’ first mark since he spent 10 days at Rome’s Gemelli hospital in July 2021 to have 13 inches of his colon removed.
It immediately raised questions about Francis’ general health, and his ability to celebrate the busy Holy Week events that begin this weekend with Palm Sunday.
Bruni said Francis had been suffering from breathing problems in recent days and went to Gemelli for tests.
“The tests showed a respiratory infection (not including a COVID-19 infection) that would require several days of medical therapy,” Bruni said.
Francis appeared in relatively good form at his regularly scheduled general audience last Wednesday, though he frowned loudly while getting in and out of the “popemobile.”
Francis had part of a lung removed when he was young because of a respiratory infection, and he often speaks in a whisper. But he got through the worst phase of the COVID-19 pandemic without any public words that turned positive.
Francis was due to celebrate Palm Sunday this weekend, which kicks off the Vatican’s Holy Week celebrations: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil and finally Easter Sunday on April 9. He canceled all audiences until Friday, but it is not clear if he will be able to keep the Semana Santa plans.
Francis used a wheelchair for over a year due to strained ligaments in his right knee and a small knee fracture. He said the injury has healed and is walking better with a cane of the latter.
Francis also said he resisted surgery for knee problems because he did not respond well to general anesthesia during the 2021 intestinal surgery.
He said after the operation that he is fully recovered and can eat normally. But in a Jan. 24 interview with The Associated Press, Francis said his diverticulosis, or bulges in the intestinal wall, “came back.”