VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis will preside over mass in St Peter’s Square Sunday as he kicks off events leading to Easter, just a day after leaving hospital following a bout of bronchitis.
The 86-year-old’s admittance to hospital on Wednesday with breathing difficulties sparked concerns he may not be well enough to attend a series of rites in what is the most important week in the Christian calendar.
But as a smiling Francis left Rome’s Gemelli hospital Saturday after a three-night stay, he told well-wishers he would be presiding over a Palm Sunday ceremony, which will be followed by the Angelus prayer.
Though his voice was weak at times, when asked how he was feeling the pope quipped twice “I am still alive!”
Palm Sunday marks the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem before his crucifixion. Easter Sunday on April 12 celebrates his resurrection from the dead.
The head of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics has suffered from increasing health issues over the past few years, including knee problems which have forced him to use a wheelchair and walking stick.
During both the Palm Sunday and Easter masses, Francis is expected to remain seated while a cardinal conducts the ceremony at the altar.
The Vatican said this was an arrangement adopted prior to the pope’s latest illness, as he is no longer able to stand for long periods.
Francis felt unwell Wednesday following a general audience in St Peter’s Square, but his condition improved after he was given antibiotics.
The hospitalization 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.
Francis marked 10 years as the head of the worldwide Catholic Church earlier this month.
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.
He has repeatedly said he would consider stepping down were his health to fail him — but said last month that, for now, he has no plans to quit.
Francis’ previous stay at Gemelli in July 2021 lasted 10 days. He was admitted after suffering from a type of diverticulitis, an inflammation of pockets that develop in the lining of the intestine, that required surgery.
In an interview in January, the pope said the diverticulitis had returned.