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Pope to remain in hospital 'a few more days,' Vatican says

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VATICAN CITY — Despite initial estimates of requiring a week of inpatient care, Pope Francis will continue his recovery as a patient at Rome's Gemelli hospital after undergoing colon surgery, the Vatican press office said.

In a statement released July 12, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the pope "will remain hospitalized for a few more days in order to optimize his medical and rehabilitation therapy."

The day after his July 4 surgery for diverticular stenosis, the Vatican had said the pope was expected to stay in the hospital for seven days, barring complications.

The pope underwent a three-hour left hemicolectomy, which is the removal of the descending part of the colon, a surgery that can be recommended to treat diverticulitis, when bulging pouches in the lining of the intestine or colon become inflamed or infected.

Pope Francis appeared on the 10th floor balcony of his suite of rooms at Gemelli hospital July 11 and addressed pilgrims and well-wishers while delivering his Sunday Angelus. He was greeted with applause and shouts of "Viva il papa" ("Long live the pope") from the crowd that stood under the scorching midday sun to see him.

"I thank you all," the pope said. "I have felt your closeness and the support of your prayers. Thank you very much."

In his address, the pope reflected on the Sunday Gospel reading from St. Mark, in which Jesus sent out his disciples to anoint the sick with oil and heal them.

The oil, he said, not only represents the comfort given through the sacramental anointing of the sick, but also symbolizes "the closeness, the care, the tenderness of those who take care of the sick person."

"It is like a caress that makes you feel better, soothes your pain and cheers you up. All of us, everyone, sooner or later, we all need this 'anointing' of closeness and tenderness, and we can all give it to someone else, with a visit, a phone call, a hand outstretched to someone who needs help," he said.

Pope Francis said that his time in the hospital gave him the opportunity to experience "once again how important good health care is" and that free, universal health care, especially for the most vulnerable, is a "precious benefit (that) must not be lost."

Acknowledging that some hospitals run by the church face the threat of closure "due to poor management," the pope said the Catholic Church's vocation "is not to have money; it is to offer service and service is always freely given."

"Do not forget this: save free institutions," he said.

Before praying the Angelus prayer, Pope Francis expressed his "appreciation and encouragement" to the doctors, nurses and staff at Gemelli hospital. He also asked for prayers for the patients, especially the children, at the hospital, several of whom stood on the balcony with him.

"Why children suffer is a question that touches the heart. Accompany them with prayer and pray for all those who are sick, especially for those in the most difficult conditions," the pope said. "May no one be left alone, may everyone receive the anointing of listening, closeness, tenderness and care."

He also visited young patients "of the oncology ward and their families, who then accompanied him to the terrace of the 10th floor for the Marian prayer." After his Angelus address, the pope — pushed in a wheelchair — met with patients and medical staff at the hospital.

Despite his extended stay at the hospital, the Vatican said July 12 the pope had "a peaceful day and completed his post-surgical treatment."

The Vatican also said the pope "shared in the joy for the victory of the Argentine and Italian national teams with those closest to him."

The pope's native Argentina defeated Brazil July 10 in the Copa America soccer championship while his ancestral country of Italy defeated England July 11 to win their first European championship since 1968.

Pope Francis, the Vatican said, "emphasized the meaning of sport and its values, and the sportsmanship of being able to accept any result, even defeat."

"Only in this way, in the face of life's difficulties, can one always put oneself on the line, fighting without giving up, with hope and trust," the statement said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021