(Vatican City) Pope Francis, who is due to return to the Vatican on Saturday after three days of treatment for bronchitis, made a surprise visit Friday to the pediatric oncology department of the Roman hospital where he is being treated.

In the afternoon, the 86-year-old Argentinian Jesuit went to the specialist department of the Gemelli Polyclinic, bringing the children chocolate eggs, rosaries and books, the Vatican said.

During this surprise visit of about thirty minutes, François also baptized a newborn baby of a few weeks, named Miguel Angel. In a video and photos released by the Vatican, we see the pope, smiling, leaning on a walker, writing on a paper and sprinkling holy water on the head of the newborn.

A few hours earlier, the Vatican had confirmed that the pope would leave the hospital on Saturday and would indeed preside over Palm Sunday mass in St. Peter’s Square, after two days of questioning about it. This ceremony marks the beginning of Holy Week preceding the celebrations of Easter, the main highlight of the year for Catholics.

The 86-year-old Argentinian Jesuit, whose state of health is “clearly improving” according to his doctors, has been hospitalized since Wednesday in this Roman hospital where he is receiving antibiotic treatment.

Thursday evening, “Pope Francis dined, eating pizza in the company of those around him in these days of hospitalization: doctors, nurses, assistants and personnel of the gendarmerie”, specified the director of the press service of the Holy See, Matteo Bruni.

Francis, who suffers from chronic health problems and uses a wheelchair due to knee pain, is staying in the private apartment reserved for popes on the 10th floor of the Gemelli University Hospital, where Pope John Paul II had stayed in several times in his time.

Created in 1981, this small apartment includes a bed, a television, a kitchen, a bathroom, an office and medical equipment, as well as a small chapel, according to the media.

After mentioning “scheduled exams”, the Vatican spokesperson finally revealed on Wednesday that Francis was suffering from a “respiratory infection” and had been experiencing difficulty breathing in recent days.

“No doubt he overdid it. But he’s a strong man and I think he’ll pull through,” Giuseppe, a 43-year-old tour guide, told AFP on Friday in Place Saint-Pierre. “This is good news because […] it is not possible for us to have Easter without the Pope. »

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

The bishop of Rome had already been hospitalized for ten days at the 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 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.