ROME – Ending a brief stay to treat what the Vatican described as a bout of bronchitis, Pope Francis left Rome’s Gemelli Hospital Saturday morning at roughly 10:30 a.m. local time to return to his residence at the Domus Santa Marta on Vatican grounds.

The Vatican had announced Friday that the 86-year-old pontiff would be discharged this morning, following favorable results from medical tests.

Prior to leaving the hospital, Francis paused for roughly 10 minutes outside the main entrance to the hospital to speak with reporters, as well as to sign the cast of a young boy with an arm injury and to hug and console a young couple who had lost their child the night before.

Francis was admitted to the Gemelli Wednesday night, for what the Vatican described at the time as “previously planned check-ups.” Later, however, it was reported that the pope had experienced difficulty breathing and was diagnosed with bronchitis, an inflammation of the tubes which carry air to and from the lungs, usually caused by an infection.

Respiratory difficulties for Francis are considered especially alarming, given that he had part of one lung removed as a young man after a serious case of pneumonia. The pope received antibiotics administered intravenously, according to the Vatican spokesman, and responded well to treatment.

On Friday, the spokesman said that Francis had eaten pizza with his medical team and Vatican security personnel. The Vatican also released photos and video of a seemingly energetic Francis standing upright while he visited a pediatric ward and baptized a baby.

In his remarks before leaving Gemelli on Saturday morning, the pope thanked reporters for their work, noting that many had “spent three nights here.”

Asked how he felt, the pope laughingly replied, “I’m still alive!”

When asked what he felt on Wednesday afternoon that prompted him to go to the hospital, Francis said he didn’t know how to describe it, but said he felt a general sense of “malaise,” like when a person has a stomach ache and feels ill.

Speaking of his visit to the hospital’s pediatric oncology and infant neuro-surgery wards, Pope Francis said it was “the most beautiful thing” as a priest, because “a priest always wants to be a priest, to be a pastor, to live his vocation.”

He said he was not afraid when he was admitted, and that he spent a lot of time reading the papers. Francis said he usually reads the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero, and was moved by “the nice things” and beautiful stories journalists wrote.

Francis said the nicest part of his stay was meeting the medical staff, and praised the work of the doctors, nurses, and other personnel who assist in various ways, saying their work requires patience and tenderness.

“When we’re sick, everyone is capricious…it requires patience. I really admire the people who work in hospitals,” he said, saying he saw this tenderness on display especially in the children’s wards.

The Vatican in its statement Friday said that Francis is scheduled to be present at the traditional Palm Sunday Mass tomorrow, though it’s unclear in what capacity, and that he will also attend the various liturgies of Holy Week.

Italian Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, dean of the College of Cardinals, told Italian media, “With the pope at each celebration, there will be a cardinal celebrant who will be at the altar.” That’s the same approach used during the Vatican’s Christmas eve liturgy this past December.

According to Re, Argentine Cardinal Leonardo Sandri will be the celebrant at the Palm Sunday Mass and Re will be the main celebrant at Easter morning Mass, although the pope will still deliver his traditional blessing Urbi et Orbi (“to the city and the world”).

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni Saturday confirmed that the pope’s Holy Week celebrations will proceed as planned, and that Francis will preside over the liturgies while a cardinal celebrates at the altar, “even on Easter day.”

Bruni said this was the plan even before the pope was admitted to the hospital, and while he did not offer information about whether Pope Francis will preside over Friday’s nighttime Via Crucis at the Colosseum, he said plans for the rest of the week will be unaltered.

On Thursday evening, the pope will celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which includes the washing of feet, at Rome’s Casal del Marmo juvenile prison.

Pope Francis in his comments to journalists at Gemelli confirmed that he will be present for Palm Sunday Mass and said that he would recite his Sunday Angelus as usual.

After leaving the Gemelli hosptial, the pope stopped at the Basilica of Saint Mary Major to pray for the children he met, for those who are sick, and for those who have lost family members to illness, a statement from the Vatican said.

For the pontiff, who marked his tenth anniversary in office March 13, this was the latest in a series of health challenges in recent months.

In July 2021, he underwent surgery at the Gemelli Hospital to remove part of his colon after he was diagnosed with a painful bowel condition called diverticulitis. More recently, the pontiff’s long-running battle with sciatica, a nerve condition in the lower back and legs, has compelled him to use of a cane and a wheelchair for many of his public appearances.

This was Francis’s second stay at the Gemelli. The late Pope John Paul II was a patient there on 11 separate occasions, including the aftermath of the 1981 assassination attempt. The hospital was dubbed the “third Vatican” during his long papacy, after the papal apartments in St. Peter’s Square and the summer residence at Castel Gandolfo.


This article has been updated with details from Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni about the pope’s Holy Week schedule.