Pope Francis will be hospitalized for several days for treatment of a respiratory infection after experiencing difficulty breathing in recent days, the Vatican said Wednesday.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni says Francis, 86, does not have COVID-19, but requires several days of therapy.
“Pope Francis is touched by the many messages received and expresses his gratitude for the closeness and prayer,” Bruni said in a statement.
The hospitalization marks Francis’ first 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’ overall health, and his ability to celebrate the busy Holy Week events that are due to begin this weekend with Palm Sunday.
Bruni said Francis had been suffering breathing troubles in recent days and went to the Gemelli for tests.
“The tests showed a respiratory infection (COVID-19 infection excluded) that will require some days of medical therapy,” Bruni said.
Francis appeared in relatively good form during his regularly scheduled general audience earlier Wednesday, though he grimaced strongly while getting in and out of the “popemobile.”
Francis had part of one lung removed when he was a young man due to a respiratory infection, and he often speaks in a whisper. But he got through the worst phases of the COVID-19 pandemic without at least any public word of ever testing positive.
Francis had been due to celebrate Palm Sunday this weekend, kicking off the Vatican’s Holy Week observances: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil and finally Easter Sunday on April 9. He has canceled all audiences through Friday, but it wasn’t clear whether he could keep the Holy Week plans.
Francis has used a wheelchair for over a year due to strained ligaments in his right knee and a small knee fracture. He has said the injury was healing and been walking more with a cane of late.
Francis also has said he resisted having surgery for the knee problems because he didn’t respond well to general anesthesia during the 2021 intestinal surgery.
He said soon after the surgery that he had recovered fully and could eat normally. But in a Jan. 24 interview with The Associated Press, Francis said his diverticulosis, or bulges in the intestinal wall, had “returned.”