A Vatican official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the information wasn’t a formal Holy See statement, indicated there would be an update on the pope’s hospitalization later in the day.
The 86-year-old pontiff was taken to Rome’s Gemelli Polyclinic on Wednesday after he returned to his Vatican residence following his customary weekly public audience in St. Peter’s Square. The Vatican reported he had experienced difficulty breathing in the previous days.
A Vatican spokesman, citing hospital medical staff, provided the precise diagnosis Thursday night, saying that Francis has bronchitis, contracted through an infection, and that the antibiotic treatment had resulted in a “marked” improvement in his health.
The hospitalization came four days before Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week.
Due to a chronic knee problem, Francis had already largely stopped celebrating Mass at major Catholic Church holy days but had continued to preside at the ceremonies and deliver homilies.
The Vatican hasn’t said when Francis would be released from the hospital. But in a statement late Thursday, it said that based on how Francis’ recovery was going, “he could be discharged in the next days.”
Italian Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re said Friday that Francis might be discharged Saturday and would thus be able to preside over — but not celebrate — Holy Week ceremonies.
“On the basis of the information I have, he’ll leave Gemelli tomorrow, so he’ll be able to preside over all the Holy Week rituals,” Italian news agency Adnkronos quoted the cardinal as saying.
Re, who at age 89 is dean of the College of Cardinals, did not say if his information came from the Vatican or the hospital,
Whether doctors clear Francis to preside over or even attend the many Holy Week observances was unclear. The appointments include a stamina-taxing late night Way of the Cross procession marked by prayers on Good Friday at the Colosseum in Rome and Easter Mass on April 9, which is traditionally followed by a long papal speech delivered from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica.
During Wednesday’s hour-long public audience, Francis at times appeared visibly in pain when he moved about and was helped by aides.