Pope Francis' surprise hospitalisation for 'respiratory infection,' throws into doubt Easter ceremonies

Pope Francis grimaces as he is helped into his popemobile at the end of his general audience Wednesday in St Peter's Square

 ROME -- Pope Francis will remain hospitalized at the Gemelli Polyclinic for several days to treat what is described as a respiratory infection, the Vatican said, throwing into doubt whether he will be able to preside over long upcoming Palm Sunday and gruelling Easter ceremonies at St. Peter's Basilica and also to what extent his pontificate may be curtailed by the unexpected recurrence of his persistent health problems. 

 The 86-year-old pontiff was said by nurses to have passed a peaceful night at a private suite on the 10th floor of the Gemelli wher he was rushed by ambulance Wednesday afternoon from his apartment at the Santa Marta guest house after presiding over his weekly audience in St. Peter's Square. The pontiff was seen visibly grimacing in pain at the end of the audience as one of his security guards helped the Argentine leader of the Roman Catholic Church into the popemobile jeep. 

 The pope has various events scheduled in the coming days with the arrival of Easter, and the audiences scheduled for the next two days have been cancelled. 

 Vatican watchers poured scorn on the Vatican's claim at 4 p.m. Wednesday that the pope's checks were "previously scheduled." Messaggero newspaper reported that "it was a shame that it was not at all a long planned check-up."

 "Everything happened in an unforseen manner, taking by surprise even his closest collaborators, who when they noticed the increasing pallor of the pope and the fact that he was sweating and his heart beating like crazy, rushed to call the doctors, who suggested hospitalisation to carry out tests, including a tac to check the status of the diverticulitis that continues to torment him by returning repeatedly." 

 The Holy See's press director, Matteo Bruni, said in a statement that "in recent days Pope Francis has complained of some breathing difficulties," hence the decision to send him to Gemelli. 

 Bruni's statement also confirmed that the infection is not COVID-19 related but that the pope will nevertheless "require a few days of appropriate hospital medical therapy." 

 In his statement, Bruni added, "Pope Francis is touched by the many messages received and expresses his gratitude for the closeness and prayers."  

The pope's chest CAT scan came back "all clear," according to Vatican sources. He completed all of his scheduled tests, and no heart problems were confirmed, officials claimed. The hypothesis of the illness is that of a possible chronic bronchitis with asthma caused by stress. Nevertheless Corriere della Sera suggested the pontiff may have suffered a heart attack climaxing the lengthy audience.

 The upper lobe of the pope's right lung was removed due to three cysts when he was a young man. He has had, especially in recent years, a history of medical challenges. 

 In 2021, he underwent colon surgery, also at Gemelli hospital, which confirmed diverticular stenosis. He also uses a wheelchair often due to a ligament injury in his right knee.

 In addition to the planned lengthy ceremonies for Easter, Francis is scheduled to travel next month to Hungary, on the border of war-torn Ukraine, to carry his message of peace and tolerance toward migrants.

 While the Vatican, as is traditional, played down the pope's ailments, Vatican watchers are concerned that even after the latest health scare the stubborn pontiff is likely to ignore doctors' advice to rest and slow down.

  "The big heart of the pope may with time have worn out and even his body weight (visibly increased since he can no longer walk) constitutes another factor of risk," Il Messaggero's respected Vatican reporter Franca Giansoldati said.