Pope Francis, the 86-year-old spiritual leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Roman Catholics, was rushed to a hospital in Rome by ambulance Wednesday after having difficulty breathing, and a spokesman said he will spend “several days” there undergoing treatment for a respiratory infection.
Both Corriere della Sera, a leading Italian daily newspaper, and America magazine, a Jesuit publication, reported the pontiff had suffered “chest pains” Wednesday. America magazine said its sources reported that Francis was first taken to the hospital’s coronary care unit for examination.
Massimiliano Strappetti, Francis’ personal healthcare assistant, made the decision to summon an ambulance, the publications reported. He was transported to Gemelli University Hospital hospital from the Vatican following a general audience Wednesday morning, including a motorized procession through St. Peter’s Square where he kissed and blessed several children.
Francis reportedly had breathing difficulties “recently,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni told the Associated Press.
Mr. Bruni said the pontiff tested negative for COVID-19 but will require “therapy” for his breathing issues.
His audiences have been canceled through Friday.
The hospitalization raised questions about Francis’ ability to celebrate Christianity’s Holy Week, which begins with Palm Sunday on April 2, followed by other observances marking the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus that culminate with Good Friday on April 7 and Easter Sunday two days later.
“I now invite all of the people of the [Archdiocese of Washington] and people of good will everywhere to join me in praying for Pope Francis that he quickly regains his health and strength in order to preside at the ceremonies of Holy Week so central to the life of our Church,” Cardinal Wilton Gregory said on Twitter.
The Most Rev. Michael F. Burbidge, who leads the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, tweeted, “Upon learning the news that Pope Francis has been hospitalized, I ask all in the Diocese of Arlington to pray that his health improves quickly and that the Holy Father has a full recovery.”
And the Rev. James Martin, a fellow Jesuit whose ministry to LGBTQ Catholics has been encouraged by Francis, asked his online followers to “please pray to Our Lady of Lourdes for the Holy Father’s swift and easy recovery.”
In a statement late Wednesday, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Military Services USA, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, asked America’s Catholics to pray for the ailing pontiff.
“As Pope Francis recovers in the hospital from a respiratory infection, we pray intensely for our Holy Father,” he said. “I invite all the faithful to pause, if possible before the Blessed Sacrament, and pray for his speedy recovery. May our dear shepherd and all those in need of healing experience the comfort of Christ.”
The pope’s health has been a subject of concern both before and after his 2021 surgery that removed about 13 inches of his colon to treat diverticulitis. A bout with pneumonia in 1957 caused the then-Jorge Mario Bergoglio to lose the upper lobe of his right lung, but he was reported to be in good health when elevated to the papacy in 2013.
He suffers from recurring sciatica and has had a knee problem that has placed him in a wheelchair for many public situations.
In an early March interview with Swiss television, the pope conceded he had physical challenge, the Corriere newspaper reported.
“I am old. I have less physical endurance, that of the knee was a physical humiliation, although now it is healing well,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.
Other media reports have had Francis dismissing the notion of retiring, as his late predecessor Benedict XVI did, although the pope has said that a signed resignation letter exists to be used if he is incapacitated.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.