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Pope feeling better, set to leave hospital Saturday

A Jesuit who seems most happy being among his flock, Francis continues to travel internationally and keep a busy agenda.. ©AFP

Vatican City (AFP) - Pope Francis is expected to be discharged on Saturday after what will have been three nights of hospital treatment for bronchitis, and will attend Palm Sunday services, the Vatican said Friday.

The 86-year-old has responded well to antibiotics and on Thursday evening shared a pizza with staff looking after him at Rome's Gemelli hospital, spokesman Matteo Bruni said.

On Friday morning, he had breakfast, read some newspapers and did some work in the private papal suite on hospital's 10th floor where he was admitted on Wednesday after complaining of breathing problems.

"His Holiness's return home to Santa Marta (his Vatican home) is expected tomorrow, in the wake of the results of the latest tests this morning," Bruni said.

As a result, Pope Francis was expected to "be present" in St Peter's Square for the celebration of Palm Sunday, which marks the beginning of Holy Week.

His hospitalisation, just weeks after he marked 10 years as head of the worldwide Catholic Church, had sparked widespread concern.

And it had raised questions over the upcoming services for Easter, Christianity's most important holiday.

The Argentine pontiff, who had part of one lung removed as a young man, has suffered increasing health issues in recent years, and it was his second stay in hospital since 2021.

He has repeatedly said he would consider stepping down if his health failed him, following the example of his predecessor Benedict XVI -- but said in February that for now, he had no plans to quit.

Eating and praying

Medical staff said in a statement late Thursday that Francis was suffering from an "infectious bronchitis which required the administration of antibiotics".

The treatment resulted in "a marked improvement in his state of health" and he was well enough to eat, work and pray at the private chapel in the hospital suite.

The Gemelli hospital is the favoured choice of pontiffs to the point of being dubbed "Vatican 3" by John Paul II, who was treated nine times at Gemelli and spent a total of 153 days there.

A Jesuit who seems most happy being among his flock, Francis continues to travel internationally and keep a busy schedule.

But he has been forced to use a wheelchair and walking stick in the past year because of knee pain, and admitted last summer that he had to slow down.

He said Thursday that he was "touched by the many messages" he was receiving in hospital, thanking on Twitter those praying for his recovery.

Among them is US President Joe Biden, only the second Catholic president in US history.

"Jill and I are keeping Pope Francis in our prayers and send our best wishes for his swift and full recovery," Biden tweeted.

"The world needs Pope Francis."

Francis was admitted in July 2021 to the same Rome hospital for 10 days for a colon operation after suffering from a type of diverticulitis, an inflammation of pockets that develop in the lining of the intestine.

In an interview in January, the pope said the diverticulitis had returned.

His predecessor Benedict XVI shocked the world in 2013 by becoming the first pope since the Middle Ages to resign, citing his declining physical and mental health.

The German theologian died on December 31 aged 95.

Francis has said he would follow suit if he was unable to do his job.

But he has cautioned that papal resignations should not be the norm, and said in an interview in February that the idea was currently not "on my agenda".

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