Pope Francis hospitalized with respiratory infection, Vatican says


ROME — Pope Francis in recent days has experienced breathing difficulty and is seeking treatment for a respiratory infection at the Gemelli hospital in Rome, the Vatican said in a statement.

He does not have covid-19 and expects to spend “a few days” in the hospital, according to the statement. His schedule through the end of the week has been cleared.

Francis, 86, who is missing part of one lung after undergoing surgery as a young man, is receiving a checkup. He “feels moved” by messages of support and prayer he has received, the Vatican said.

As Francis marks a decade as pope, what does it mean to be 86?

Earlier Wednesday, Francis gave his weekly general audience address at the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square. The announcement of Francis’s treatment comes less than two weeks before Easter Sunday, a busy time of important ceremonies and obligations for the pope.

The 10th anniversary of his pontificate was earlier this month. In the last 500 years, only three other popes have reached age 86 while in the position.

The pope has at times appeared frail. Last year, he began using a wheelchair after experiencing persistent knee pain. He also underwent surgery to remove part of his left colon in 2021. Last July, after a trip to Canada, Francis hinted at needing to slow down — raising speculation that he could follow his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who in 2013 became the first pope in 600 years to step down.

“I think at my age and with this limitation, I have to save [my energies up] a bit to be able to serve the church or, on the contrary, think about the possibility of stepping aside. This I say with all honesty,” he said. “It is not a catastrophe. It is possible to change pope.”

But in the months since, Francis has continued to carry out papal duties, including a six-day trip last month to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, where he reveled in the extraordinary energy of massive crowds of admirers. “I believe that the pope’s ministry is ad vitam [for life],” he told a gathering of Jesuits there, Jesuit periodical La Civiltà reported. “I see no reason why it should not be so.”

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