International News

The Health History of Pope Francis

Pope Francis greets the crowd gathered outside the Gemelli hospital after praying the Angelus in this file photo taken in Rome July 11, 2021, when the pope was in the hospital for 10 days to recover from a scheduled colon surgery. (Photo: Catholic News Service)

By The Tablet Staff

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — As Pope Francis continues to recover from his respiratory infection in Rome, his health issues and age have raised concern for many in the Catholic community.

Pope Francis, 86, was hospitalized Tuesday, March 29, and diagnosed with a respiratory infection after complaining of a shortness of breath, according to the Vatican press office.

But this isn’t the first illness the pope has battled this year. In fact, Pope Francis has had a history of health issues dating back over the past two years. 

In a late January interview with the Associated Press, Pope Francis had said that his diverticulitis, or bulges in his intestinal wall, had “returned,” but he insisted he was in good health for his age.

Pope Francis spent 10 days in Gemelli Hospital in July 2021 after undergoing a three-hour surgery that included a left hemicolectomy, which is the removal of the descending part of the colon, a surgery that was  recommended to treat diverticulitis.

Three days after surgery, the Vatican said, “the final histological examination has confirmed a severe diverticular stenosis with signs of sclerosing diverticulitis,” a hardening of the tissue. The statement seemed to indicate that the biopsy showed no cancerous cells, although it did not say so explicitly, and rumors began.

Interviewed by the Reuters news agency in July 2022, the pope was asked about rumors that doctors had found cancer.

According to Reuters, Pope Francis laughed and said: “They didn’t tell me about it. They didn’t tell me.”

But, really, he said, “they explained everything to me well — full stop.”

In 1957, at the age of 20, Pope Francis was hospitalized after being misdiagnosed with the flu. In the book, “Let us Dream,” written with Austen Ivereigh, the pope said, “Straight away they took a liter and a half of water out of the lung, and I remained there fighting for my life. The following November they operated to take out the upper right lobe of one of the lungs.”

While the pope can sometimes be heard breathing heavily, he has insisted the surgery had no lasting impact on his health.