(Vatican City) Pope Francis, hospitalized since Wednesday in Rome with a respiratory infection, is better and “back to work,” the Vatican announced Thursday, allaying concerns about the head of the Catholic Church’s health.

The 86-year-old pope’s condition is “gradually improving and planned treatments are continuing. This morning after breakfast, he read some newspapers and went back to work,” Holy See spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement.

The Argentinian Jesuit, who suffers from chronic health problems and uses a wheelchair due to knee pain, also gathered in the chapel of the private apartment he occupies on the 10th floor of the Gemelli University Hospital .

This reassuring news comes against a backdrop of concerns after the contradictory information distilled on Wednesday by the Vatican on the real state of health of the pope, which made headlines in the international press on Thursday. “Pope Francis: The Great Fear,” headlined the Turin daily La Stampa on its website.

After mentioning “scheduled exams”, the Vatican spokesman finally announced Wednesday evening that he was suffering from a “respiratory infection” unrelated to COVID-19. The pope, who had been having difficulty breathing in recent days, must undergo treatment for “a few days”.

Joe Biden, the second Catholic president in American history, on Wednesday called on attendees at a White House reception to “say one more prayer” for the pope.

The bishops of France, meeting in Lourdes, invited Thursday on Twitter “the Catholic faithful to unite their prayers for the

According to hospital sources quoted by the Italian agency Ansa, the pope should be able to preside over Palm Sunday Mass, but the Vatican has not communicated on this subject.

The pope’s agenda also includes celebrations for Holy Week and Easter, a highlight of the Catholic world, and he is expected in Budapest at the end of April.

“I hope he will recover very quickly and that he will be able to celebrate Easter here in Saint-Pierre,” Tina Montalbano, a 60-year-old Italian tourist guide whom he met on Thursday morning, told AFP. place.

“The fear is still there, but it seems like everything is fine at the moment,” she added.

This sudden hospitalization took the world by surprise, especially since on Wednesday morning, Jorge Bergoglio had again participated as every week in the general audience in Saint Peter’s Square, during which he appeared smiling, greeting the faithful from his ” popemobile”.

Roberta Tait, a pilgrim from Trento (northern Italy), said she learned the news on social networks after attending the hearing. “We were truly sorry and received the news with great regret. »

François, who has been in a wheelchair since May 2022 due to chronic knee pain, had already been hospitalized for ten days at Gemelli Hospital in July 2021 for a major colon operation.

He admitted to having kept “after-effects” of the anesthesia, which led him to rule out knee surgery so far.

The pain caused by this joint, which notably forced him to cancel several appointments in 2022 and to postpone a trip to Africa, is at the heart of conjecture on his possible renunciation.

The head of the Catholic Church has always left the door open to this possibility. His predecessor Benedict XVI stepped down in 2013, taking the world by surprise.

François, for his part, blows hot and cold on this delicate subject.

After having mentioned in July the possibility of “putting oneself aside”, he had judged in February that the “resignation” of a pope should “not become a fashion”, assuring that this hypothesis was “not on his agenda for the moment “.

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 since this octogenarian has a heavy medical history behind him: at 21, he almost died of pleurisy and suffered a partial ablation of one of his lungs.