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Pope Francis is released from hospital, returns to Vatican 10 days after surgery

A guard helps Francis with a car door.
Pope Francis, arriving at the Vatican, stops to greet security guards outside an entrance.
(Riccardo De Luca / Associated Press)

Pope Francis was discharged from a Rome hospital and returned to the Vatican on Wednesday, 10 days after undergoing planned surgery to remove half his colon.

Francis, 84, gave thanks for the success of the operation and offered prayers for others during a visit, en route home, to Rome’s St. Mary Major basilica, the Vatican said. The pope always visits the basilica after returning from a foreign trip to pray before a beloved icon of the Virgin Mary.

Francis sat in the passenger seat of the Ford car, which left Rome’s Agostino Gemelli Polyclinic about 10:45 a.m. local time.

After the brief stop, the pope’s small motorcade approached a side entrance to the Vatican. His car stopped before reaching the gate, and Francis got out with the help of a bodyguard. He greeted some Italian security guards — two army soldiers standing guard and a handful of Italian police motorcycle escorts — and got back in the car, which then entered the Vatican through the Perugino gate.

Francis lives in a hotel-style residence just inside the gate.

Francis had half of his colon removed July 4 because of a severe narrowing of his large intestine, his first major surgery since he became pope in 2013. It was a planned procedure, scheduled for early July when the pope’s audiences are suspended and Francis normally takes some time off.

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The Vatican has detailed laws, rituals and roles to ensure the transfer of power when a pope dies or resigns. But none apply when he’s sick.

The Vatican spokesman, Matteo Bruni, confirmed Francis’ return from the hospital and visit to the Rome basilica. Praying before the icon, Francis “expressed his gratitude for the success of his surgery and offered a prayer for all the sick, especially those he had met during his stay in hospital,” Bruni said in the statement.

Francis will have several more weeks to recover before beginning to travel again in September. There are plans for him to visit Hungary and Slovakia in a Sept. 12-15 trip, and a quick stop in Glasgow, Scotland, in November to participate in the COP26 climate conference. Other possible trips are also under review.

The Vatican had originally said Francis could be discharged last weekend but later said he would stay a few extra days for further recovery and rehabilitation therapy.

His discharge, which was not announced in advance, was greeted with joy and prayers by visitors to St. Peter’s Square, who said they wished for his continued recovery and Italy’s recovery from the pandemic.

“I’m happy the pope has left Gemelli hospital and has come back to his ‘world,’ among us faithful, to hopefully bring us a lot of serenity,” said Rome resident Andrea Castellani.

The surgery had caught many Vatican watchers off guard: Francis had shown no signs of the pain that often accompanies the intestinal problem he had, and even had a busy week before the operation.

Francis stands with children and a cameraman on a balcony.
Pope Francis, accompanied by young hospital patients, delivers a blessing from a balcony of the Agostino Gemelli Polyclinic in Rome on Sunday.
(Alessandra Tarantino / Associated Press)

The Argentine pope had part of one lung removed when he was a young man, but he has otherwise enjoyed relatively robust health, with the exception of sciatica nerve pain that has flared recently.

The Vatican gave consistently reassuring daily updates about his recovery, saying it was proceeding as planned. Francis had one episode of fever three days after the operation, but the Vatican said diagnostic tests and scans showed no problems.

On Sunday, the pope appeared for the first time in public since the surgery, looking in good form as he delivered his weekly prayer from the 10th-floor hospital balcony, surrounded by young cancer patients. He used the occasion to call for free healthcare for all.

On Tuesday afternoon, the eve of his release, he visited the pediatric cancer ward, which is on the same floor as the papal hospital suite.

Once he returned to the Vatican, Francis’ official Twitter account posted an update: “I thank all those who have been close to me with prayer and affection during my hospital stay. Let us not forget to pray for the sick and for those who assist them.”


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