(Vatican City) After three days of treatment for bronchitis, Pope Francis is due to be discharged from hospital on Saturday and return to the Vatican where he will preside over Palm Sunday Mass the next day, marking the start of Easter celebrations.

On Friday, the 86-year-old Argentinian Jesuit made a surprise visit to the pediatric oncology ward at Gemelli Hospital in Rome, bringing the children chocolate eggs, rosaries and books.

François also baptized a newborn baby a few weeks old. 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.

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

The state of health of the bishop of Rome, who had been hospitalized on Wednesday after breathing difficulties, quickly improved and he had returned to work on Thursday.

Francis, who suffers from chronic health problems and uses a wheelchair due to knee pain, stayed in the private apartment created for the popes in 1981 on the 10th floor of the Gemelli University Hospital.

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

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.

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.