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Pope Francis and Silvio Berlusconi both hospitalized in Italy

Pope Francis waves as he meets with young people at Papp Laszlo Sportarena during his visit in Budapest, Hungary, on Saturday, April 29, 2023. (Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)  (Vincenzo Pinto/AFP)
By Emma Bubola New York Times

Two of Italy’s most powerful octogenarians, Pope Francis and Silvio Berlusconi, whose health conditions have in recent years kept the country in suspense, were both in the hospital Friday.

The pope was unexpectedly admitted to a hospital in Rome this week and underwent surgery for a hernia that had caused painful intestinal blockages. Berlusconi, a former prime minister and media mogul, was hospitalized Friday in Milan for checkups related to his blood disease, his personal physician, Alberto Zangrillo, said in a text message.

In both cases, the news followed several recent medical scares, and prompted fresh concerns about the health of the men, both 86.

The pope was hospitalized in March to receive treatment for bronchitis, and in 2021 he had part of his colon removed. He also has knee problems and sciatica, and now often uses a cane or a wheelchair.

The Vatican said Friday evening that the pope’s recovery was progressing normally, and that he had begun working from his hospital room.

“I am praying for everyone, especially those who suffer,” the pope wrote on Twitter on Friday. “I ask you to keep me in your prayers.”

Berlusconi has fought several health conditions in recent years, and was most recently in intensive care in April. He has also survived prostate cancer, and had his nose fractured in 2009 when an attacker struck him with a statuette of the Milan cathedral.

On Thursday, Zangrillo said that the checks Berlusconi was undergoing were not connected to any specific alarming situation, but followed common practice.

Berlusconi still holds a seat in Italy’s Parliament since his reelection in 2022. After being one of the most prominent, scandalous and polarizing figures in Italy’s political, business and media worlds for three decades, Berlusconi is now a rather marginalized figure, but nevertheless still represents a potential political threat. He is still the president of his center-right Forza Italia party, now a minority component of Italy’s right-wing government, overshadowed by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy.

Francis, a reformist head of the Roman Catholic church and a champion of the poor, who has promoted inclusivity in the institution, had repeatedly said that he would step aside if his health conditions prevented him from running the church. But, more recently, he also said that he believes that being pope is a lifetime position, and that the resignation of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, was an exception.

Once again, the men’s health issues gripped the country.

President Sergio Mattarella of Italy sent his best wishes to the pope, and Francis’ social media accounts were filled with messages of support. On Friday, Rome newspaper La Repubblica featured on top of its homepage a picture of Berlusconi, and Italian Sen. Maurizio Gasparri said on television that he hoped the former prime minister “was in a position to resist,” referring to new worries about his health.

“Forza Silvio!” (“Go Silvio!” in English), Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League party, also part of the government, wrote on Instagram on Friday.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.