(Vatican City) Pope Francis, hospitalized this week for treatment of bronchitis, thanked the faithful for their prayers during Mass on Palm Sunday, an important event in the Christian calendar marking the start of Holy Week.

“I greet you all, Romans and pilgrims, especially those who have come from afar. I thank you for your participation and also for your prayers, which you have intensified in recent days. THANKS ! said the 86-year-old pontiff as he led the Angelus prayer the day after he was discharged from hospital after a three-day stay.

He briefly waved to the crowd on Sunday morning as he moved through St. Peter’s Square decorated with more than 35,000 plants and flowers.

Aboard his papamobile, he had displayed a serious air before taking part in this ceremony, at which he had promised to be present, in front of 30,000 people.

The pontiff had left Rome’s Gemelli Hospital on Saturday after a three-night stay, appearing to be in good shape and in a joking mood.

“I’m still alive,” he replied, smiling at reporters and congregants gathered around the hospital who asked him how he was feeling.

The leader of the 1.3 billion Catholics has suffered from growing health problems for several years, including knee pain that forces him to use a wheelchair and a cane.

During Palm Sunday and Easter Masses, he is expected to remain seated while a cardinal leads the ceremony at the altar. According to the Holy See, this organization was decided before his hospitalization, the Argentine pontiff no longer being able to stand for long.

On Wednesday, the Vatican said he was going to Gemelli Hospital for scheduled checkups, before admitting he had been having difficulty breathing and had a “respiratory infection” requiring antibiotic treatment. .

This is his second hospitalization since 2021, when he underwent colon surgery, also in Gemelli.

Pope Francis celebrated ten years at the head of the world Catholic Church at the beginning of March. He pushed through major governance reforms and sought to forge a more open and compassionate church, although he faced internal opposition, particularly from conservatives.

His previous stay in Gemelli, in July 2021, lasted ten days. He had been admitted there for a major colon operation. He claims to have kept “after-effects” from the anesthesia, which have led him to rule out knee surgery so far.

During an interview in January, Jorge Bergoglio said he once again suffered from diverticulitis, an inflammation of the diverticula, hernias or pockets that form on the walls of the digestive system.

The pope is constantly monitored by a team of caregivers, both in the Vatican and during his trips abroad.

A precaution all the more necessary as he has a heavy medical history behind him: at the age of 21, he almost died of pleurisy and suffered the partial removal of a lung.