A chipper-sounding Pope Francis has been discharged from the Rome hospital where he was treated for bronchitis, quipping to journalists before being driven away that he is “still alive”.
Francis, 86, was admitted to hospital at Gemelli Polyclinic on Wednesday following his weekly public audience in St Peter’s Square after reportedly experiencing breathing difficulties.
The pontiff received antibiotics administered intravenously during his stay in hospital, the Vatican said.
In a sign of his improved health, the Vatican released details of his Holy Week schedule, saying he will preside at this weekend’s Palm Sunday Mass in St Peter’s Square and at an outdoor Easter Mass on April 9.
A Vatican cardinal will be at the altar to celebrate both Masses, a recent practice due to the pontiff having a troublesome knee issue.
But Francis is expected to celebrate Holy Thursday Mass, which this year will be held in a juvenile prison in Rome. It is unclear whether he will attend the late-night, torch-lit Way of the Cross procession at Rome’s Colosseum to mark Good Friday.
Before leaving Gemelli Polyclinic on Saturday morning, Francis had an emotional moment with a Rome couple whose five-year-old daughter died on Friday night at the Catholic hospital.
Outside, Serena Subania, mother of Angelica, sobbed as she pressed her head into the chest of the Pope, who held her close and whispered words of comfort.
Francis seemed eager to linger with well-wishers. When a boy showed him his arm cast, the pontiff made a gesture as if to ask “Do you have a pen?” Three papal aides obliged, and Francis took one of the pens and added his signature to the boy’s cast.
The Pope answered in a low voice that was close to a whisper when reporters peppered him with questions, indicating he had felt unwell. “I felt sick”, he said, pointing to his mid-section — a symptom that convinced his medical staff to take him to the hospital on Wednesday.
Asked how he felt now, Francis joked, “Still alive, you know”, and gave a thumbs-up.
Francis left the hospital by a side entrance, but his car stopped in front of the main entrance where a gaggle of journalists waited. He opened the car door himself and got out from the front passenger seat with a cane to lean on.
After chatting, he got back into the white Fiat 500 which drove him away from Gemelli Polyclinic, but instead of heading straight home, his motorcade sped past Vatican City and went to St Mary Major Basilica, a Rome landmark which is one of his favourites.
Startled tourists rushed to snap photos as he sat in a wheelchair, which he has often used to navigate longer distances in recent years due to a chronic knee problem. When he emerged after praying, residents and tourists in the street called out “Long live the Pope!” and clapped.
Francis spent 10 days at the same hospital in July 2021 after intestinal surgery for a bowel narrowing, After his release back then, he also stopped to offer prayers of thanksgiving at St Mary Major Basilica, which is home to an icon depicting the Virgin Mary. He also visits the church after returning from trips abroad.
Living #HolyWeek means entering ever more deeply into God's logic, into the logic of the Cross, which is not primarily that of suffering and death, but rather that of love and of the gift of self that brings life.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) April 1, 2023
Before leaving the hospital on Saturday, Francis, while chatting with journalists and praised medical workers, saying they “show great tenderness”.
“The sick are capricious. I much admire the people who work in hospitals,” he said.
Francis stopped to talk to reporters again before he was driven into the Vatican through a gate of the tiny walled city-state, where he lives at a Holy See hotel. Speaking through an open car window, he said: “Happy Easter to all, and pray for me.”
On another stop, he got out of his car to distribute chocolate Easter eggs to the police officers who drove the motorcycles at the head of his motorcade.