Pope Francis was admitted to Rome’s Gemelli hospital yesterday for scheduled intestinal surgery, the Vatican said, the first time he has been in hospital since his election in 2013.
Spokesman Matteo Bruni said the pope, 84, was due to undergo the surgery later yesterday for an intestinal condition that tends to affect older people and can cause abdominal pain.
The pope appeared to be in fine health several hours earlier, when he addressed thousands of people in St Peter’s Square for his Sunday blessing and announced a trip to Slovakia and Budapest for September.
The sprawling Catholic-run Gemelli hospital and medical school in the northern part of Rome, traditionally treats popes and a part of its 10th floor is permanently reserved for them. Francis is suffering from symptomatic diverticular stenosis of the colon, a condition where sac-like pouches protrude from the muscular layer of the colon, leading it to become narrow.
In addition to causing pain, the condition can lead to bloating, inflammation and difficulty in bowel movement.
The pope is sometimes short of breath because a part of one of his lungs was removed following an illness when he was a young man in his native Argentina.
He also suffers from sciatica, which causes pain that radiates from the lower back along the sciatic nerve to the legs.
The condition, for which he receives regular physiotherapy, forced him to miss several events at the beginning of this year and has led him on occasions to walk with difficulty.
Last year, a bad cold kept him from taking part in a weeklong Lenten retreat with senior aides south of Rome. In 2014, a year after he was elected, Francis was forced to cancel several engagements because of what was believed to be a stomach ailment.
The surgery marks a rare health issue for the 84-year-old pontiff, who has been remarkably durable and routinely holds events or meetings at least six days a week. Pope Francis yesterday morning held his usual Angelus blessing and had not mentioned the operation.
But a week earlier, he had notably emphasised that he needed spiritual support. “Pray in a special way: the pope needs your prayers,” Francis had said. Italian President Sergio Mattarella wished Pope Francis a speedy recovery, in a message shared on the presidency’s website on Sunday.
“Speaking on behalf of all Italian and of myself, we wish to send to Your Holiness our warm regards and the most cordial wishes for a good convalescence and speedy recovery,” the message sent to Pope Francis said. Francis had not been slowed in the days leading to the announcement.
On Thursday, he hosted a delegation from Lebanon, aiming to address the country’s crisis, and Friday he met with the prime minister of Iraq. But he is also at an age when any surgery is noteworthy.
He is just as old as Pope John Paul II was at the time of his death. And he’s one year shy of Benedict’s age when the former pontiff stepped down, citing failing strength of “body and mind.”
Francis has not undergone any other known surgeries as pontiff, but he has breathing problems stemming from an illness as a 21-year-old in Argentina.