By Crispian Balmer and Alvise Armellini
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -Pope Francis has seen a marked improvement in his health after receiving an infusion of antibiotics for an infectious bronchitis, the Vatican said in an upbeat statement on Thursday.
The pope was taken to hospital on Wednesday after complaining of breathing difficulties, raising fresh concerns over the health of the 86-year-old pontiff, who is suffering from a number of ailments.
Quoting Francis’s medical team, the Vatican said the pope had been diagnosed with an infectious bronchitis virus, a highly contagious respiratory disease, which required an intravenous infusion of antibiotics.
“(This) produced the expected effects with a marked improvement in his state of health,” the statement said, adding: “Based on the expected progress, the Holy Father could be discharged in the coming days.”
The Vatican said that the pope had spent the afternoon “devoting himself to rest, prayer and some work.”
Earlier on Thursday, indicating that Francis was not confined to his bed, the Vatican said he had prayed in the small chapel within his private hospital suite.
“I am touched by the many messages received in these hours and I express my gratitude for the closeness and prayer,” the pope wrote separately on Twitter.
It was not clear whether Francis would be able to participate in any of the upcoming Holy Week events — one of the busiest periods in the Church calendar, which kicks off with Palm Sunday on April 2.
CARDINALS TO PRESIDE
Cardinals said they had been told by the Vatican that the pope would not preside over Easter services this year and that they would share out the ceremonies between them.
However, Italian Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re told AGI news agency that Francis was expected to attend the main Mass on Easter Day itself, which falls on April 9.
Last year, the pope sat to one side during some of the Easter events due to persistent knee pain, leaving it to senior cardinals to lead the Masses.
Well-wishers in St. Peter’s Square urged a speedy recovery for the Argentine pontiff.
“We hope he will get well soon and celebrate the Easter Mass,” said a nun from Tanzania, Sister Faustina. “We really love him,” said a nun from Congo, Sister Michaela.
Prayers were held for Francis in his native Argentina, which he has never returned to since his election as pope a decade ago.
“Day by day, with intensive work, unique in a Supreme Pontiff, he wears out his life for the service of the Church,” Father Alejandro Russo, rector of the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral, told his congregation.
“That is why we pray for the health of the pope without alarm, because we know that this is a slight pause.”
Francis is sometimes short of breath and exposed to respiratory problems. He had part of one lung removed in his early 20s when training to be a priest in Argentina.
The pope also suffers from diverticulitis, a condition that can infect or inflame the colon, and had an operation at the Gemelli hospital in 2021 to remove part of his colon.
He said in January that the condition had returned, but that he was not overly concerned. He did not elaborate. In addition, he has the problem with his right knee and alternates between using a cane and a wheelchair in his public appearances.
His latest hospitalisation has revived speculation over a possible resignation on health grounds, following the historic precedent of his predecessor Benedict XVI, who died in December.
However, Francis has indicated he would follow that example only if he were gravely incapacitated.
Asked by Italian Swiss television RSI in an interview broadcast on March 12 what condition would lead him to quit, he said: “A tiredness that doesn’t let you see things clearly. A lack of clarity, of knowing how to evaluate situations.”
(Reporting by Alvise Armellini, Crispian Balmer, Angelo Amante and Antonio Denti; Additional reporting by Miguel Lo Bianco and Juan Bustamante in Argentina; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Alison Williams, Frances Kerry and Jonathan Oatis)