Pope returns to Vatican, ‘is better than before,’ chief surgeon says

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Pope Francis smiles as he leaves Rome’s Gemelli hospital early on Friday, June 16. Dr. Sergio Alfieri, the pope’s chief surgeon, and Gianluca Gauzzi Broccoletti, commander of the Vatican police force, are next to the pope as he responds to questions from Spanish journalist Eva Fernández, left, and Italian journalist Vania De Luca. CNS photo/Vatican Media

ROME. Pope Francis has returned to the Vatican after a nine-day hospital stay and intends to go ahead with his planned trips abroad in August and September, according to his chief surgeon.

“The pope is fine. He’s better than before,” said Dr. Sergio Alfieri, the chief surgeon who operated on the pope June 7 to repair a hernia; he also operated on the pope in 2021.

“The pope has confirmed all his trips,” the doctor told reporters outside Rome’s Gemelli hospital June 16, right after the pope was released. The pope was scheduled to attend World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal, Aug. 2-6, and to go to Mongolia Aug. 31-Sept. 4.

“As a matter of fact,” Alfieri said, according to Vatican News, “he will be able to embark on them better than before because now he will no longer have the discomfort of his previous ailments. He will be a stronger pope.”

When asked about the pope’s convalescence to fully heal from abdominal surgery, Alfieri said, ‘he doesn’t convalesce; he has already started working.”

“We asked him to do some convalescence (and) this time I’m sure he will listen to us a little bit more because he has important events ahead of him and he has already said personally that he will go through with all of them, including his trips,” Alfieri said.

When the pope emerged from the hospital in a wheelchair the morning of June 16, he greeted well-wishers and journalists who asked him how he was. “I’m still alive,” he said, smiling.

He also expressed his sorrow for the recent deaths of migrants who drowned crossing the Mediterranean Sea near Greece.

He was accompanied to an awaiting white Fiat car by his aides and Alfieri, and then, with the front passenger-side window open, waved to others lining the road as he left.

Before returning to the Vatican, he stopped to pray at the icon of Mary, “Salus Populi Romani,” in the Basilica of St. Mary Major, a stop he makes before and after every trip abroad and a stop he also made in July 2021 after undergoing colon surgery at the Gemelli.

Then the pope “stopped for a brief private visit to the sisters of the Institute of the Most Holy Child Mary, gathered for their general chapter,” the Vatican press office said. The pope also greeted police outside one of the side entrances into the Vatican to “thank them for their service.”

The Vatican press office said the pope’s Angelus address and prayer with visitors in St. Peter’s Square June 18 was confirmed as well as individual audiences in the coming days.

His general audience June 21 was canceled, however, “to safeguard the Holy Father’s postoperative recovery,” it said in a communique June 16.

Pope Francis underwent a three-hour surgery to repair a hernia June 7. The procedure, under general anesthesia, was performed using a surgical mesh to strengthen the repair and prevent the recurrence of a hernia. Surgeons also removed several adhesions or bands of scar tissue that had formed after previous surgeries decades ago, Alfieri told reporters after the operation.

Alfieri had explained that the pope’s immediate recovery required avoiding undue stress or strain so as not to tear the prosthetic mesh used to reinforce the abdominal wall.

The pope had spent seven days in the hospital in July 2021 after undergoing colon surgery to treat diverticulitis, inflammation of bulges in the intestine. He was also hospitalized for three nights for a respiratory infection in late March.

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