Pope Francis waves as he leaves after being discharged from the Gemelli hospital in Rome on June 16, 2023, where he underwent abdominal surgery last week. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)
(AFP) – Pope Francis left hospital on Friday after undergoing a hernia operation and returned to the Vatican, where his health will be under increasing scrutiny ahead of a busy summer.
A smiling Francis left the Gemelli hospital in Rome at 8:45 am (0645 GMT) in a wheelchair, thanking the crowd of well-wishers outside.
Asked how he felt, he quipped “still alive!”
The 86-year-old has suffered a series of health issues since his election in 2013, from hip problems, knee pain and weight gain, to an inflamed colon and respiratory infection.
He underwent a three-hour operation under general anaesthetic on June 7 to remove a painful hernia on the site of a scar from a previous surgery.
It was his third stay in hospital since 2021.
“The pope is well, he’s better than before,” Sergio Alfieri, the surgeon who operated on him, told journalists Friday.
Doctors said he was cheerful on waking after last week’s operation, cracking jokes with the medical team, and the hospital published regular updates detailing his steady recovery.
The Vatican cancelled papal audiences until June 18 to give the pontiff time to recover.
But Francis was quick to start working again from his suite in Rome’s Gemelli hospital, which is the favoured choice of pontiffs to the point of being dubbed “Vatican III” by John Paul II.
He had joked that “Vatican number one” was St. Peter’s Square, Vatican number two was the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, and the Gemelli was number three.
– Back to work –
Francis spent his last day Thursday doing the rounds in a wheelchair and thanking the doctors and nurses who looked after him.
He also visited children in the paediatric oncology and child neurosurgery department, some of whom had sent him letters and drawings wishing him a speedy recovery, the Vatican said.
All eyes will be on the pontiff to see how he manages the return to a normal schedule.
The Vatican said he would recite the Angelus prayer on Sunday from his window overlooking St Peter’s Square as usual.
It also said his audiences for the following days were “confirmed” — apart from the lengthy weekly general audience on Wednesday 21, which has been cancelled.
Francis’s agenda is particularly busy over the coming months, with trips to Portugal and Mongolia in August.
The programme for his visit to Portugal from August 2 to 6 for World Youth Day in Lisbon is packed, with around 20 meetings and a number of events.
– Slow down –
The head of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, who had part of one lung removed as a young man, is regularly forced to reduce his schedule due to health problems.
In July 2021, he underwent surgery at the Gemelli for a type of diverticulitis, an inflammation of small bulges or pockets that can develop in the lining of the intestine.
Francis was also hospitalised for three nights in March with a respiratory infection.
In recent months, rumours about his possible resignation have intensified.
He has repeatedly said he would consider stepping down if his health failed him, following the example of his predecessor, Benedict XVI.
Francis acknowledged in July 2022 that he needed to slow down.
“At my age and with this limitation, I have to save myself a little bit to be able to serve the Church,” he said. “Or, alternatively, to think about the possibility of stepping aside.”
In March, however, he insisted that he had no current plans to quit.
© Agence France-Presse