'I'm still alive': Pope Francis leaves hospital after bronchitis treatment
Pope Francis was discharged on Saturday from the Rome hospital where he was treated for bronchitis, joking to journalists before being driven away: "I'm still alive."
On Wednesday, the 86-year-old pontiff was admitted to Rome's Gemelli Polyclinic hospital – where he was being treated with antibiotics administered intravenously for bronchitis. The Vatican added Francis had experienced difficult breathing in days leading up to his hospitalization.
Francis sat in the front seat of the white Fiat 500 car that drove him away from Gemelli Saturday morning. When speaking with journalists, he thanked the medical workers at the hospital, noting that they "show great tenderness."
The Vatican said that before departing Gemelli, Francis lingered with patients and families at the hospital. He signed the arm cast of a young boy and hugged a couple whose daughter died Friday night at Gemelli, expressing words of comfort.
Francis made several stops on his way home – including at St. Mary Major Basilica, where tourists and residents took photos and chanted "Long live the pope."
The pontiff's hospitalization led to worldwide concern about the pope's health. But his condition improved over several days, the Vatican said. In a Friday statement Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni said that Francis' recovery had been "normal."
"Yesterday (went) well, with a normal clinical recovery,'' Bruni said. On Thursday evening "Pope Francis had dinner, eating a pizza, together with all those who are assisting him in these days of the hospital stay."
The spokesperson later added that the pope is expected to be present at St. Peter's Square for Palm Sunday Mass – which marks the start of the Holy Week celebrations leading up to Easter.
Francis told reporters on Saturday that he would keep his weekly appointment to greet the public in St. Peter's Square following the Palm Sunday Mass.
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Francis' expected participation in Holy Week
Bruni did not specify Francis' expected participation in the upcoming Palm Sunday Mass – including whether the pope would be able to deliver a homily during the ceremony, or if someone else might read it for him.
Due to a chronic knee problem, Francis had already largely stopped celebrating Mass at major Catholic Church holy days – but has continued to preside at the ceremonies and deliver homilies.
The Holy Week appointments include a late night Way of the Cross procession marked by prayers on Good Friday at the Colosseum in Rome and Easter Mass on April 9, traditionally followed by a long papal speech from St. Peter's Basilica.
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Pope expresses thanks for messages of support
In a Thursday tweet, Francis expressed thanks for prayers directed toward his health.
"I am touched by the many messages received in these hours and I express my gratitude for the closeness and prayer," the pope wrote.
This week has marked Francis' first hospitalization since July 2021, when the pope spent 10 days at Gemelli to have 13 inches of his colon removed.
When Francis was a young man in his native Argentina, he also had part of a lung removed – making the pope particularly vulnerable to any respiratory illness.
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Contributing: The Associated Press. Ella Lee, USA TODAY.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pope Francis health update: Discharged from hospital on Saturday