- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2023

Pope Francis, hospitalized with viral bronchitis Wednesday, will be back at the Vatican Saturday and present for Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square, his spokesman said Friday.

Shortly after the Friday morning announcement, the Vatican press office released video and photos of the pope visiting children in the Gemelli Hospital’s pediatric oncology ward. Francis is shown bringing gifts and baptizing an infant. At times he used a walker, but the pontiff appeared better than he did on Wednesday.

Italian Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re said the pontiff “would be able to preside over — but not celebrate — Holy Week ceremonies” as the 86-year-old pope resumes normal work duties, according to news reports.

Francis, who lost part of a lung to pneumonia in 1957 and had surgery for diverticulitis in 2021 in which a portion of his colon was removed, was reported to have chest pains Wednesday. Observers said he appeared to be in pain as he moved around during his midweek general audience. His medical assistant decided Francis should be examined at Rome’s Gemelli Hospital, to which he was taken by ambulance.

The Vatican News Service quoted Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press Office, as saying, “As he is scheduled to leave the hospital tomorrow, Pope Francis is expected to be present in St. Peter’s Square for the Eucharistic celebration of Palm Sunday, Passion of the Lord.”

Mr. Bruni, who earlier announced the pontiff’s hospitalization, said Francis “is expected to return to the Santa Marta [guest] home [Saturday] upon the outcome of the results of the last examinations this morning.”

Francis has resided at the Santa Maria facility since his 2013 election as spiritual leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Roman Catholics, eschewing the traditional papal apartment in the Vatican. His hospitalization and photos showing an uncomfortable and grimacing pope being helped to move after the Wednesday audience touched off a flurry of speculation and a global prayer chain as Catholic leaders called for intercession.

Both Cardinal Wilton Gregory, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington and the Most Rev. Michael F. Burbidge, bishop of the Arlington, Virginia, diocese, posted Twitter messages inviting the faithful to pray for the church leader’s swift recovery.

President Biden, speaking at a Greek Independence Day reception at the White House Wednesday evening, told guests, “The Pope is ill now, so say an extra prayer for him.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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