Pope Francis rested well overnight and was “progressively improving” Thursday, the Vatican said, after he was hospitalized with a respiratory infection that has called into question his participation in Palm Sunday and upcoming Holy Week events.
The 86-year-old pontiff, who had part of one lung removed as a young man, ate breakfast, read the newspapers and was working from his hospital room at Rome’s Gemelli hospital, according to a statement from Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni.
“Before lunch he went to the little chapel in the private apartment, where he gathered in prayer and received the Eucharist,” the statement said.
Francis was hospitalized Wednesday after having trouble breathing in recent days and was diagnosed with a respiratory infection that wasn't COVID-19. The Vatican said he would remain for a few days of treatment; his audiences were canceled through Friday.
Despite his absence, the Vatican was abuzz with activity Thursday: Two Vatican offices issued an historic statement repudiating the “Doctrine of Discovery," the legal theory backed by 15th century papal bulls that legitimized the colonial-era seizure of Native lands and form the basis of some property law today.
And there was continued fallout over the sudden resignation of a founding member of the pope's sex abuse prevention board, with Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley pushing back against Rev. Hans Zollner's critiques in his remarkable resignation statement issued the previous day.
Francis is scheduled to celebrate Palm Sunday this weekend, and it wasn’t clear how his medical condition would affect the Vatican’s Holy Week observances, which include Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil and finally Easter Sunday on April 9.
His hospitalization was the first since Francis had 33 centimetres of his colon removed and spent 10 days at the Gemelli hospital in July 2021.
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.”
Before he was admitted to the hospital Wednesday, the pope had appeared in relatively good form during his regularly scheduled general audience, though he grimaced strongly while getting in and out of the “popemobile.”
Francis has used a wheelchair for over a year due to strained ligaments in his right knee and a small knee fracture, though he had been walking more with a cane of late.
Francis has said he resisted having surgery for the knee problems because he didn’t respond well to general anesthesia during the 2021 intestinal surgery.