ROME -- Pope Francis has been cleared by doctors for discharge on Saturday from the Rome hospital where he was treated for bronchitis, the Vatican said, adding that the pontiff had pizza one evening with medical staff and baptized a baby in the pediatrics ward.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni, in one of several updates on Friday, also said that Francis will be in St. Peter's Square for Palm Sunday Mass at the start of Holy Week, although he didn't say if the pontiff would deliver the homily during the particularly lengthy service.
“The medical team that is following His Holiness Pope Francis, after evaluating the outcome of tests carried out today and the favorable clinical recovery, has confirmed discharge” on Saturday, Bruni said in a written statement Friday night.
Francis, 86, was hospitalized on Wednesday at Gemelli Polyclinic, where doctors said the pontiff was receiving antibiotics intravenously to treat his bronchitis.
Calling the pontiff's medical recovery “normal,” Bruni said earlier in the day that on Thursday evening, "Pope Francis had dinner, eating a pizza, together with all those who are assisting him in these days of the hospital stay,” including doctors, nurses, assistants and Vatican security personnel.
Given the pope's return to the Vatican hotel where he lives, the spokesman said, was expected to be present in the square for Palm Sunday Mass, which formally begins Holy Week that culminates with Easter Mass in the square on April 9.
Medical personnel decided to hospitalize him on Wednesday after he returned to his Vatican residence following his customary weekly public audience in St. Peter’s Square. The Vatican reported he had experienced difficulty breathing in the previous days.
The Vatican on Thursday said that antibiotic treatment for bronchitis had resulted in a “marked” improvement in his health.
In a video released by the Vatican, Francis was seen baptizing a hospitalized baby who is a few weeks old.
After the mother tells Francis the boy's name, Miguel Angel, the pope uses a metal hospital tray usually employed to hold syringes to pour water over the sleeping baby's head, then tries to comfort the infant, who wakes up, wailing and seeming to try to swat away the pope's hand.
Francis then asked the mother to dry her son's wet forehead. He then told her: ”When you go to your parish, say that the pope baptized him."
Francis was smiling and looked chipper as he visited children being treated at Gemelli for cancer and gave out large, wrapped chocolate Easter eggs.
Earlier in the day, Francis sent a tweet on Friday possibly inspired by his current health challenge.
“When experienced with faith, the trials and difficulties of life serve to purify our hearts, making them humbler and thus more and more open to God,” Francis wrote. The tweet carried a hashtag for Lent, the period of the liturgical year stressing penitence and sacrifice in the run-up to the joyous Church celebration of Easter, which marks the Christian belief that Jesus rose from the dead after his crucifixion.
The Vatican seemed keen to quickly dispel any worries about the pope's physical fitness to carry on fully with his duties. Nearly immediately after the announcement of a discharge date for Francis, the Vatican announced that the pope would meet the prime minister of Bosnia-Herzegovina on Monday in a private audience at the Apostolic Palace.
Palm Sunday Mass usually draws tens of thousands of faithful, including many pilgrims from abroad, flocking to Rome for Holy Week.
Francis had already largely stopped celebrating Mass at major Catholic Church holy days because of a chronic knee problem, but had continued to preside at the ceremonies and deliver homilies.
The Holy Week appointments include a stamina-taxing late night Way of the Cross procession marked by prayers on Good Friday at the Colosseum in Rome and Easter Mass on April 9, which is traditionally followed by a long papal speech delivered from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica.
During Wednesday's hour-long public audience, Francis at times appeared visibly in pain when he moved about and was helped by aides.
In July 2021, Francis underwent surgery at Gemelli Polyclinic after suffering from a narrowing of his colon. As a young man in Argentina, Francis had part of a lung removed.