The Vatican said, without giving much detail about the pontiff’s condition, Pope Francis “reacted well” to planned intestinal surgery Sunday evening at a Rome hospital.
Late Sunday a general anesthesia was carried out on the 84-year-old Francis during the surgery necessitated by a narrowing of the large intestine, according to a Holy See spokesman, Matteo Bruni.
The statement, though written without medical details, came shortly before midnight.
How long surgery lasted, and for how long the pope was unconscious under anesthesia, Bruni didn’t say.
Although he was expected to recover for a few days in a private 10th floor apartment suite reserved for popes, it was not immediately clear how long Francis would stay in Rome’s Agostino Gemelli Polyclinic, a Catholic hospital.
“The Holy Father, admitted in the afternoon to A. Gemelli Polyclinic, underwent in the evening planned surgery for a diverticular stenosis of the sigmoid” portion of the colon, Bruni said in the brief written statement. “The Holy Father reacted well to the surgery conducted under general anesthesia,” the spokesman said, noting there was a four-person surgical team, plus a four-person anesthesiologist team.
A stenosis is an abnormal constriction or narrowing. The sigmoid portion of the large intestine extends from the end of the descending colon to the rectum. Gastroenterologists say the sigmoid segment is a common location for a diverticular stenosis.
The main surgeon was Dr. Sergio Alfieri, the director of Gemelli’s digestive surgery department.
The official papal physician, whom Francis tapped earlier this year was among those present in the operating room. The pope’s previous physician had contracted COVID-19 and died at Gemelli while hospitalized for cancer treatment.
He cheerfully announced he would go to Hungary and Slovakia in September during his traditional Sunday appearance to the faithful in St. Peter’s Square. It was a remarkable end to a day that began publicly for Francis.
The pope headed shortly after his window appearance to the hospital as he made no mention of his impending surgery. At the end of his public remarks from an Apostolic Palace window, Francis told the crowd: “And please, don’t forget to pray for me.” Then he added, sounding casual, almost wistfully: “Thanks, ciao.”
The Vatican revealed that Francis had been diagnosed with a narrowing in the large intestine a couple hours after he was admitted, reportedly arriving with little escort and no fanfare.
Francis had a week earlier used his same Sunday appearance to ask the public for special prayers for himself, which hinted of the planned surgery.
“I ask you to pray for the pope, pray in a special way,” Francis had asked the faithful in the square on June 27. “The pope needs your prayers,” he said, adding his thanks and saying “I know you will do that.”
From his youth, Francis has been in generally good health, but he did have part of one lung removed. He also has a painful condition that has forced him at times to skip scheduled appearance due to sciatica, in which a nerve affects the lower back and leg.
In the last week the pope had a particularly busy schedule, including celebrating a Mass on Tuesday to mark the Catholic feast day in honour of Saints Peter and Paul, and later in the week, officiating at a special prayer service for Lebanon. On June 28, he also had a long private meeting at the Vatican with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Throughout all those engagements, Francis appeared to be unperturbed.
Get-well wishes began arriving immediately for Francis. Soon after he landed in Paris for a state visit in France, Italian President Sergio Mattarella, offered an “affectionate thought” on behalf of all Italians. Mattarella said he was wishing for “a good convalescence and even a speedier recovery” for the pope.
Gemelli doctors have notably performed surgery before on popes, like Pope John Paul II, who had what the Vatican stated was a benign tumor in his colon removed in 1992. John Paul had several other surgeries at the hospital, including after being shot by a gunman in St. Peter’s Square in 1981. After those surgeries, the Vatican and hospital officials gave detailed accounts of the pope’s medical condition.