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Updated: Vatican announces Pope hospitalised for respiratory infection

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Pope Francis greets hospital workers at Gemelli hospital in this file photo taken in Rome on 11 July 2021, when the pope had been in the hospital for 10 days to recover from a scheduled colon surgery. Photo: CNS, Vatican Media

Update 31/03/2023

In a statement late Thursday evening, the Vatican said Pope Francis spent his afternoon “dedicating himself to rest, prayer, and some work duties.”

According to information provided by the pope’s medical team, he was diagnosed with an “infectious bronchitis” and he is being treated with antibiotics that are being administered through an IV.

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The Vatican said the Holy Father may be released from hospital within a few days, but it is as yet unclear whether he will have the strength to celebrate Mass on Palm Sunday, as planned.

After having difficulty breathing, Pope Francis went to Rome’s Gemelli hospital on 29 March where he was diagnosed with a respiratory infection that will be treated in the hospital for several days, the Vatican press office said.

In the past few days, the statement said, “Pope Francis complained of some respiratory difficulties and this afternoon he went to Agostino Gemelli Polyclinic for some medical tests.
The outcome of these showed a respiratory infection—a COVID-19 infection was excluded—that will require several days of appropriate medical treatment in the hospital.”

“Pope Francis is touched by the many messages he’s received and expresses his gratitude for the closeness and prayer,” the press office said.

Audiences cancelled

About six hours earlier the press office had said the pope was at the hospital for “previously planned tests.”

Before acknowledging the pope would be hospitalised for a few days, a Vatican official said audiences with the pope scheduled for 30 and 31 March had been canceled “to make room in his agenda for the tests to continue” if needed.

Several Italian media outlets and the Rome correspondent for the Argentine newspaper La Nacion reported, however, that Pope Francis was taken to Gemelli by ambulance.

Chest pains reported

La Nacion said that “a source close” to the pope told the newspaper that after his weekly general audience that morning, the pope began to feel chest pain and was advised to go to the hospital immediately.

The Gemelli hospital, part of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, keeps a suite of rooms reserved for the popes on its 10th floor.

In a late January interview with the Associated Press, Pope Francis had said that the diverticulitis, or bulges in his intestinal wall, had “returned,” but he insisted he was in good health for his age, which is 86.

2021 surgery

Pope Francis had spent 10 days in Gemelli hospital in July 2021 after undergoing a three-hour surgery that included a left hemicolectomy, which is the removal of the descending part of the colon, a surgery that can be recommended to treat diverticulitis.

Three days after surgery, the Vatican said, “the final histological examination has confirmed a severe diverticular stenosis with signs of sclerosing diverticulitis,” a hardening of the tissue. The statement seemed to indicate that the biopsy showed no cancerous cells, although it did not say so explicitly, and rumours began.

Interviewed by the Reuters news agency in July 2022, the pope was asked about rumours that doctors had found cancer.

Cancer rumour ‘court gossip’

According to Reuters, Pope Francis laughed and said: “They didn’t tell me about it. They didn’t tell me.”

But, really, he said, “they explained everything to me well—full stop.”

The cancer rumour, he said, “is court gossip. The court spirit is still there in the Vatican. And if you think about it, the Vatican is the last European court of an absolute monarchy.”

In 1957, at the age of 20, Pope Francis was hospitalised after being misdiagnosed with the flu. In the book, Let us Dream, written with Austen Ivereigh, the pope said, “Straightaway they took a litre and a half of water out of the lung, and I remained there fighting for my life. The following November they operated to take out the upper right lobe of one of the lungs.”

While the pope can sometimes be heard breathing heavily, he has insisted the surgery had no lasting impact on his health.

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