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Pope has bronchitis, is improving but remains hospitalized, Vatican says

A statue of Pope John Paul II outside the Rome hospital where Pope Francis is hospitalized. (Fabio Frustaci/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
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ROME — Pope Francis has a case of bronchitis, the Vatican said Thursday, a day after the 86-year-old pontiff was hospitalized for respiratory symptoms.

The pope has shown “marked improvement” after receiving antibiotics, the Vatican said in a statement. “Based on foreseeable developments, the Holy Father may be released in the next few days,” it said.

The pontiff’s hospital stay not long before Easter celebrations fed anxiety about the health of one of the oldest heads of the Catholic Church in history.

Earlier Thursday, the Vatican said the pope had spent a restful night in the hospital.

“Pope Francis spent the afternoon at the Gemelli [hospital] dedicating himself to rest, prayer and some work duties,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement.

Pope Francis hospitalized with respiratory infection, Vatican says

The pope also prayed at a chapel in his private hospital rooms, according to a Vatican statement.

“I am touched by the many messages received in these hours and I express my gratitude for the closeness and prayer,” the pope’s Twitter account said Thursday.

At a White House event Wednesday, President Biden, the United States’ second Catholic president, asked people to say an “extra prayer” for Francis, whom he called one of the “most Christ-like figures I’ve ever met.”

The pope was admitted to Gemelli hospital on Wednesday after complaints of shortness of breath. He had part of his lung removed when he was a young man in Argentina. He also had part of his colon removed in 2021 and suffers from knee pain that has often caused him to use a wheelchair.

The Vatican in an initial statement Wednesday said Francis was at the hospital for a previously scheduled health checkup. But the announcement stoked concern and speculation about his health, and a later statement clarified that he was seeking treatment for a respiratory ailment that was not covid-19 and was expected to be hospitalized for “a few days.”

Earlier Thursday, an official at Gemelli hospital said the pontiff had a respiratory infection but denied reports that it was pneumonia. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because was not authorized to talk to reporters.

The pope has a private apartment at the hospital, where plainclothes Vatican police have been stationed.

Despite his ailments, Francis has continued to pursue a busy schedule and gave his weekly audience Wednesday before his hospitalization. He traveled to South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo last month and gave sermons before massive crowds.

In January, he oversaw the funeral of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who in 2013 became the first pontiff in centuries to voluntarily step down. Benedict said he retired because of health issues, which Francis had hinted he might also consider doing. But on his recent trip to Congo, he indicated otherwise. “I believe that the pope’s ministry is ad vitam [for life],” he told a gathering of Jesuits there, according to the Jesuit periodical La Civiltà. “I see no reason why it should not be so.”

The pope has a packed schedule in the run-up to Easter Sunday on April 9 — the busiest time of year for the pontiff.

The pope’s annual Palm Sunday Mass remains on his schedule for this weekend.

Miriam Berger reported from Washington.