Pope Francis attended his weekly audience at St Peter's Square earlier on Wednesday

Pope Francis has a respiratory infection and will need to spend a few days in hospital in Rome, the Vatican says.

The 86-year-old had breathing difficulties in recent days but does not have Covid, a statement said.

It said he would need “a few days of appropriate hospital medical therapy”.

“Pope Francis is touched by the many messages received and expresses his gratitude for the closeness and prayer,” the statement added.

His closest staff, including security, are expected to stay the night at the Gemelli Hospital, a person with direct knowledge told the BBC.

This is the busiest time of the year for Pope Francis, with many events and services scheduled ahead of Easter weekend.

A Palm Sunday Mass is scheduled this weekend, and Holy Week and Easter celebrations next week.

He is also scheduled to visit Hungary at the end of April.

On Wednesday morning, he presided over his weekly general audience in St Peter’s Square. He appeared in good spirits but was seen grimacing as he was helped into his vehicle.

The pontiff has used a wheelchair in recent months due to mobility problems related to his knee.

He also underwent surgery to treat a colon problem in 2021. In January, he said the condition had returned.

Despite his ailments, the Pope has remained active and has undertaken trips abroad. He visited the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan in February.

In January, the Pope led the funeral of his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI – who was the first pope to step down voluntarily for centuries. He said this was due to ill health.

Pope Francis has previously indicated that he may also wish to follow in Benedict’s footsteps in the event that his health deteriorates.

Pope’s schedule over Easter

  • 2 April, Palm Sunday: 09:30 (7:30 GMT) Papal Mass, 12:00 Sunday Blessing
  • 5 April: 09:00 Papal General Audience
  • 6 April, Holy Thursday: 09:30 Chrism Mass in St Peter’s Basilica
  • 7 April, Good Friday: 17:00 Passion of the Lord, 21:15 Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum
  • 8 April, Holy Saturday: 20:30 Easter Vigil in St Peter’s Basilica
  • 9 April, Easter Sunday: 10:00 Easter Sunday Mass, 12:00 Urbi et Orbi in St Peter’s Square
  • 10 April, Easter Monday: 12:00, Pasquetta in St Peter’s Square

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