By Abimbola Ogunnaike
Pope Francis, 86 joked with well-wishers on Saturday, 1 April, 2023 as he left the hospital after a three-night stay for bronchitis, and headed back to the Vatican to prepare for Christianity’s most important week.
The pontiff, who was admitted to Rome’s Gemelli hospital on Wednesday, 22 March, 2023 with breathing difficulties, got out of the car transporting him and smiled and joked with the crowd. Asked by someone how he felt, he quipped twice with a big smile “I am still alive!”
Francis will now begin preparations for Holy Week and Easter, the most important week in the Christian calendar.
The pontiff was ill on Wednesday after a general audience in St Peter’s Square, but his condition improved after he was given antibiotics.
On Friday, the pope visited the children’s cancer ward at the hospital, handing out chocolate Easter eggs and baptising a weeks-old baby boy.
As he left on Saturday, 1 April, 2023, he reached out to bless sick people, and stopped to hug and pray with distraught parents whose young daughter had just died.
The Argentine pope confirmed on Saturday he will preside over Palm Sunday mass in St Peter’s Square, the start of a busy week of events leading up to Easter.
Francis’ hospitalisation was his second since 2021, when he underwent colon surgery, also at Gemelli.
His increasing health issues over the past year have sparked widespread concern, including speculation that he might choose to retire rather than stay in the job for life.
Pressed by journalists Saturday as to whether he had been scared by his latest illness, he shook his head and said “no”.
He is set to dive back into work at the Vatican, with a meeting with a top cardinal on the agenda for later Saturday.
His predecessor, Benedict XVI, quit in 2013, in a radical step not seen since the Middle Ages.
Visitors to St Peter’s Square on Friday expressed relief over his recovery.
“I was afraid for the pope,” said one 56-year-old Italian tourist who gave his name as Davide.
“But I’m happy he’s better, that he’s returning. For believers and the Catholic community, it’s important,” he added.
Pope Francis marked 10 years as the head of the worldwide Catholic Church recently.
He has pushed through major governance reforms and sought to forge a more open, compassionate Church, although he has faced internal opposition, particularly from conservatives.