Pope Is Expected to Be Released From the Hospital on Saturday

Pope Francis is expected to be discharged from the hospital on Saturday and will preside over Palm Sunday celebrations, the Vatican said on Friday, after he was unexpectedly hospitalized earlier in the week for a respiratory infection.

The pope, 86, will be permitted to leave the hospital after being treated with antibiotics for bronchitis and undergoing some final tests on Friday, according to the Vatican, which has otherwise given few details about his condition.

Matteo Bruni, the Vatican spokesman, said in a statement that Francis had eaten pizza for dinner on Thursday and that his recovery had been “normal.” On Friday, he said, Francis resumed work.

In the afternoon, Francis visited young patients in the hospital’s pediatric oncology ward, the Vatican said, where he gave them rosaries, chocolate eggs and a children’s book on Jesus. Photographs and a video released by the Vatican showed the pope, using a walker, strolling through the colorful ward, where he also baptized a baby.

The pope’s hospitalization on Wednesday was met with concern around the world. The announcement on Friday that he would soon be released came as reporters and television crews loitered in a grassy area in front of the hospital, hoping to catch a glimpse of activity behind the windows of the suite where he was resting.

The Vatican said Francis would take part in Palm Sunday services in St. Peter’s Square this weekend for the start of Holy Week celebrations, which will include a late evening Good Friday procession at the Colosseum in Rome, an Easter Vigil the following evening and Easter Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square.

The Vatican also announced that the pope would meet the prime minister of Bosnia-Herzegovina in a private audience at the Apostolic Palace on Monday, another sign that he was returning to health.

Well-wishers at the hospital cheered Francis on. “I am sure he’s going to make it — he has such a strong spirit,” said Annamaria Montio, 33, a physiotherapist student at the Policlinico A. Gemelli hospital in Rome, where Francis was admitted for a series of tests on Wednesday.

She said that Francis, who has experienced a number of health problems, had been in good hands at the hospital, where John Paul II also received treatment when he was pope.

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.

Major health scares have been less frequent: As a young man, Francis survived severe pneumonia and had part of a lung removed, and in the summer of 2021, he underwent major intestinal surgery.

The pope’s chronic knee problems have made it difficult for him to stand at times, so he often stopped celebrating Mass at major celebrations, instead presiding on the sidelines, from which he would deliver homilies while seated.

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, the vice dean of the College of Cardinals, told the Italian news agency Ansa this week that a different cardinal would celebrate each Mass during Holy Week, with Pope Francis presiding.

This past week took an unexpected turn for Francis. On Wednesday afternoon, the Vatican said that the pope had been hospitalized for previously scheduled medical checks, but later acknowledged that the pope had experienced some respiratory difficulty after his usual morning audience.

Tests at the hospital showed that the pontiff had infective bronchitis, and the Vatican said on Thursday that antibiotics had produced the desired result with “a clear improvement of his health conditions.”

Despite the news that the pope’s return to the Vatican was imminent, there were lingering concerns.

“If they brought him to the hospital, it means that he was really unwell,” said Paola Giuliani, 71, who was sitting on a bench in front of the Rome clinic’s main entrance. The fact that he had been hospitalized was a “sign” that could not be ignored, she said.

Across town from the hospital, tourists who were patiently waiting in line to enter St. Peter’s Basilica shared a similar sentiment.

“No faithful will want to see the pope suffering. What counts is that he gets better as soon as possible,” said Gianmarco Cabibbo, 35, a firefighter from Sicily who was on vacation in Rome with his family.

“He is old — he needs to take care of himself as much as possible,” Mr. Cabibbo said. “He is very close to the people, and we are close to him.”

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