VATICAN CITY (AP) – Pope Francis visited a hospital in Rome on Sunday for scheduled surgery on his large intestine, the Vatican said. The news came just three hours after Francis cheerfully greeted the audience in St. Peter’s Square and told them he would be visiting Hungary and Slovakia in September.
The brief statement from the Holy See’s press office did not say exactly when the operation would be performed at the Gemelli Polyclinic, a Catholic teaching hospital, only that there would be a medical update when the operation was completed. But sources said the operation would be carried out later on Sunday.
It was the first known hospital treatment of the Pope since his election to the papacy in 2013.
The Vatican said the 84-year-old Pope had been diagnosed with “symptomatic diverticular stenosis of the colon,” a reference to a narrowing of the large intestine. The operation was to be performed by Dr Sergio Alfieri, Director of the Digestive Surgery Department at Gemelli.
A week earlier, Francis had used his same Sunday appearance to ask the audience for special prayers for himself, which in hindsight might have hinted at the planned operation.
“I ask you to pray for the Pope, pray in a special way”, Francis had asked the faithful in the square on June 27. “The Pope needs your prayers,” he said, adding his thanks and saying “I know you’re going to do this.
Francis is generally in good health, but had part of a lung removed when he was a young man. He also suffers from sciatica, sometimes having painful attacks in which a nerve affects his lower back and leg. This sometimes required him to skip scheduled appearances.
The Pope has had a series of particularly demanding appointments last week, including the celebration of a mass on Tuesday to mark the Catholic holiday in honor of Saints Peter and Paul, and later in the week the presidency of a special prayer service for Lebanon. On June 28, he also had a long private audience at the Vatican with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Throughout these engagements, François seemed to be in a good mood.
Doctors at Gemelli have previously operated on papal patients, including Pope John Paul II, who had a benign colon tumor removed in 1992.
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