VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis prepared to spend a third day in hospital Friday after doctors said he was responding well to antibiotics for bronchitis and could be discharged “in the coming days”.

The 86-year-old pontiff was admitted on Wednesday for what the Vatican said were pre-planned tests, after complaining of breathing difficulties.

But he appeared to quickly rally and by Thursday morning was feeling well enough to eat, pray and work from his private suite in Rome's Gemelli hospital.

He was suffering an “infectious bronchitis which required the administration of antibiotics”, medical staff said in a statement late Thursday.

The treatment has seen “a marked improvement in his state of health” and Francis could be back home in the Vatican “in the coming days”, it said.

His admission sparked widespread concern.

The Argentine, who had part of one of his lungs removed as a young man, has suffered increasing health issues in recent years, and it was his second stay in hospital since 2021.

The pope's illness has raised questions over whether he will be at services in the Holy Week and Easter, Christianity's most important holiday.

Francis, who earlier this month marked 10 years as head of the Catholic Church, would normally preside over the celebrations, which kick off this weekend with Palm Sunday.

Slowing down

A Jesuit who seems most happy being among his flock, Francis continues to travel internationally and keeps a busy schedule.

But he has been forced to use a wheelchair and walking stick in the past year due to knee pain, and admitted last summer he had to slow down.

He said Thursday he was “touched by the many messages” he was receiving in hospital, thanking on Twitter those praying for his recovery.

Francis was admitted in July 2021 to the same Rome hospital for 10 days for an operation on his colon after suffering from a type of diverticulitis, an inflammation of pockets that develop in the lining of the intestine.

In an interview in January, the pope said the diverticulitis had returned.

Francis has repeatedly said he would consider stepping down if his health required it, following the example of his predecessor Benedict XVI.

The German theologian, who died on December 31, shocked the world in 2013 by becoming the first pope since the Middle Ages to resign.

Francis has cautioned, however, that papal resignations should not be the norm, and said in an interview in February that the idea was currently not “on my agenda”. - AFP