Vatican City (AFP) - Pope Francis spent a peaceful second night in hospital for treatment of bronchitis, a Vatican source said Friday, as a senior cardinal said the 86-year-old could be discharged as soon as Saturday.
Doctors late Thursday reported a "marked improvement" in the condition of the pontiff, who was admitted to Rome's Gemelli hospital on Wednesday, and said he could be home "in the coming days".
Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, dean of the College of Cardinals, told the Adnkronos news agency Friday that "based on the information I have, the pope will leave Gemelli tomorrow".
He expressed hope that Francis would be able to preside over services for Holy Week and Easter, Christianity's most important holiday, which begin with this weekend's Palm Sunday celebrations.
The Vatican did not respond to requests for confirmation.A source earlier said that he had passed the night "peacefully".
The pope's admission to hospital, just weeks after he marked 10 years as head of the worldwide Catholic Church, has sparked widespread concern while also fuelling speculation about his future.
The Argentine, 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 the pontiff could be back home in the Vatican "in the coming days", it said.
The pontiff had been admitted for what the Vatican initially said were pre-planned tests, after complaining of breathing difficulties.
By Thursday morning he was feeling well enough to eat, pray and work from his private suite on the tenth floor of the hospital, according to the Vatican.
'World needs Pope Francis'
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".