ROME — Pope Francis went to a Rome hospital on Wednesday for planned medical tests, the Vatican said, raising concerns over the health of the pontiff, who is 86 and has a recent history of medical challenges.
“The Holy Father has since this afternoon been at the Gemelli for some previously planned tests,” said the Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni in a statement, referring to the Rome hospital that traditionally treats popes.
It was not clear from the statement whether a new ailment prompted the visit, or how long Francis, who appeared at a weekly audience on Wednesday morning, would stay at the hospital. Mr. Bruni said that more information would be provided pending developments.
Francis, who became pope 10 years ago, has knee problems and sciatica which have caused a severe limp and have, in recent months, often relegated him to a wheelchair. In the summer of 2021, he underwent major intestinal surgery. As a young man, he survived a severe case of pneumonia and had part of a lung removed.
Francis said at the beginning of his pontificate that he envisioned only serving a few years, and has since said repeatedly that he would resign if failing health made it impossible for him to run the church. Soon after he was elected, he praised his predecessor, Benedict XVI, the first pope in almost 600 years to resign, for having the courage to step down.
But after his surgery in 2021, Francis told a Spanish-language radio station that he had never thought about quitting while suffering from poor health. And more recently he has said he viewed the pontificate as a lifelong mission.
“I believe that the pope’s ministry is ad vitam. I see no reason why it should not be so,” he told a group of Jesuits in the Democratic Republic of Congo last month, adding that retirement was, for the moment not “on my agenda.” He added, “Think that the ministry of the great patriarchs is always for life! And the historical tradition is important.”
Since his knee gave out, Francis has had to depend, at first seemingly reluctantly, on others to move around. He sometimes uses a cane, but also leans on aides, and relies on a specific butler to put him in, and lift him out, of a wheelchair. On foreign trips, he now uses an elevator to get on and off the plane, but he has kept up his ambitious travel. In early February he traveled to Congo and South Sudan.
In an interview in January, Francis told The Associated Press that bulges in his intestinal wall had “returned.” In 2021, the pope had roughly 13 inches of his large intestine removed because of what the Vatican said was inflammation that caused a narrowing of his colon. Otherwise he said he was in good shape for his age; a fall had led to a slight bone fracture in his knee, but it had healed without surgery.
“I’m in good health. For my age, I’m normal,” he said, adding in a frequent flourish, “I might die tomorrow, but it’s under control. I’m in good health. ”
The pope also has problems with sciatica, a chronic nerve condition that causes back, hip and leg pain, and makes him walk with a limp. Flare-ups of that condition have forced him to cancel or modify high-profile appearances.
Speaking to reporters on a papal plane in 2014, he said: “I know this will last a short time, two or three years, and then to the house of the Father.” In 2015, he said he saw himself serving as pope for about another five years.
Francis is scheduled to begin a busy series of ceremonies in the upcoming days, including Palm Sunday this weekend, followed by Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday on April 9.
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