Pope Francis leaves hospital, says I'm still alive

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Pope Francis left hospital to return to the Vatican on Saturday after being treated for bronchitis, making light of his illness by saying, “I wasn’t frightened, I’m still alive.”

The pope, 86, was taken to Rome’s Gemelli hospital on Wednesday after complaining of breathing difficulties, but responded rapidly to an infusion of antibiotics, his medical team has said.

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The media was kept far from the pope when he last left hospital in 2021 following surgery on his colon.

This time, looking to show the world that he was fully recovered, Francis got out of his car on his way out, greeting well-wishers and talking to waiting reporters. He used a walking stick to support himself.

He embraced a couple whose daughter had died overnight in the hospital and prayed with them, and also signed the plaster cast of a young boy with a broken arm. He waved from the window of his car as he was driven back to the Vatican.

The pope, who marked the 10th anniversary of his pontificate in March, has suffered a number of ailments in recent years.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni confirmed on Friday that Francis would take part in this weekend’s service for Palm Sunday - a major event in the Church calendar that kicks off Easter week celebrations.

Holy Week, as it is known, includes a busy schedule of rituals and ceremonies that can be physically exhausting, including a Good Friday nighttime procession by Rome’s Colosseum.

The dean of the college of cardinals, Giovanni Battista Re, has said a cardinal would help the pope during the week’s celebrations and take care of altar duties.

A similar arrangement was put in place last year, when the pope sat to one side during some Easter events due to persistent knee pain, leaving it to senior cardinals to lead the Masses.

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