ROME - Pope Francis underwent intestinal surgery on Wednesday and finished the three-hour procedure without complications, the Vatican said, though the episode raised fresh concerns about the health of the 86-year-old pontiff.
The Vatican said the surgical procedure was designed to address an intestinal obstruction caused by a “painful” hernia. Francis was put under general anesthesia while doctors inserted a prosthesis in a process called a laparotomy, church officials said.
He is expected to remain in the hospital for “several days.” The Vatican canceled his meetings until June 18.
“It’s no joke, huh?” said a Vatican official after he looked up the surgery. “Especially because it’s an elderly person. … I trust the people in whose hands he is, but it’s no walk in the park.” He spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Francis had previously cited concerns about general anesthesia in explaining his decision to avoid knee surgery to repair strained ligaments that have restricted his mobility. The pope said he had not reacted well to anesthesia during a three-hour surgery in July 2021, when he had 13 inches of his colon removed to address a stenosis, or narrowing, of his large intestine.
Despite his health issues, Francis, one of the oldest pontiffs in history, has maintained an energetic pace for most of his decade as pope.
On Wednesday morning, before the surgery, he participated in his usual general audience at the Vatican and then greeted the faithful in St. Peter’s Square, blessing a child with a hand on his head and making his rounds in the uncovered “popemobile” in the bright sunlight.
Francis was taken to Rome’s largest hospital - Gemelli - in the early afternoon Rome time. The decision to move forward with the operation came after he underwent tests a day earlier.
This is his second hospitalization this year. He was brought to Gemelli in March with bronchitis.
While he was in the hospital for only a few days then, it came ahead of the Holy Week and Easter period, adding to concerns. The Vatican sought to reassure the public with daily updates - showing the pope working, eating pizza, baptizing infants and handing out chocolate eggs on the pediatric oncology ward.
Francis, whose knee pain requires him to use a wheelchair and a walking stick, has previously acknowledged that he may need to slow down - or even consider retirement at some point.
“I don’t think I can continue with the same pace of the trips as before,” Francis said after a trip to Canada last year. “I think at my age and with this limitation, I have to save [my energies up] a bit to be able to serve the church.”
He has said he would be open to stepping down if his health made it impossible to run the church. His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, was the first pope to step down in 600 years.
Francis has said it is a “normal option” to think about retirement - but that he wasn’t there yet.
The Vatican has announced a busy schedule for him this year, including planned trips to Portugal for World Youth Day in the first week of August, as well as a trip to Mongolia later that month.