Pope Francis goes to hospital for scheduled surgery on colon

Pope Francis has been admitted to a hospital in Rome for scheduled surgery on his large intestine, the Vatican has said. The news came just three hours after the pope had cheerfully greeted the public in St Peter’s Square and told them he would visit Hungary and Slovakia in September.

The brief statement from the Holy See’s press office did not say exactly when the surgery would be performed at the Gemelli Polyclinic, a Catholic teaching hospital, only that there would be a medical update when the surgery was complete. However, sources indicated that the surgery would be carried out later on Sunday.

It is the pope’s first known treatment in hospital since he was elected to the papacy in 2013.

The Vatican said the 84-year-old pontiff had been diagnosed with “symptomatic diverticular stenosis of the colon”, otherwise described as a narrowing in the large intestine. The surgery was to be performed by Prof Sergio Alfieri, the director of Gemelli’s digestive surgery department.

A week earlier, Francis had used his same Sunday appearance to ask the public for special prayers for himself, which might have been in reference to the planned surgery.

“I ask you to pray for the pope, pray in a special way. The pope needs your prayers,” Francis had said, thanking the faithful and adding: “I know you will do that.”

Francis is in generally good health, but did have part of one lung removed as a young man. He also suffers from sciatica, occasionally having painful bouts of the condition in which a nerve affects the lower back and leg. That has forced him at times to skip scheduled appearances.

The pope had a particularly demanding set of appointments last week, including celebrating a mass on Tuesday to mark the Catholic feast day honouring Saint Peter and Saint Paul, and presiding later in the week at a special prayer service for Lebanon. On Monday, he also had a long private audience at the Vatican with the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken. Throughout all those engagements, Francis appeared to be in good spirits.

Doctors at the Gemelli have performed surgery before on papal patients, including on Pope John Paul II, who had a benign tumour in his colon removed in 1992.