'I'm still alive!' jokes Pope as he leaves hospital
Pope Francis left hospital Saturday after a three-night stay for a bronchitis infection, joking with wellwishers and journalists waiting for him outside that he was "still alive".
The 86-year-old pope, who was admitted to Rome's Gemelli hospital on Wednesday with breathing difficulties, got out of the car transporting him and smiled and joked with the crowd, before heading off to the Vatican to begin preparations for the most important week in the Christian calendar.
On Friday, the pope visited the children's cancer ward at the hospital, handing out chocolate Easter eggs and even baptising a weeks-old baby boy, according to a video published by the Vatican.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said Francis had been working earlier on Friday in the hospital's private papal suite on the 10th floor and catching up on newspapers. On Thursday night, he ate pizza with some hospital staff.
The Argentine pope was expected to be discharged on Saturday, Bruni said, and would preside over Palm Sunday mass in St Peter's Square.
The ceremony marks the beginning of Holy Week, which culminates in Easter.
Francis' hospitalisation was his second since 2021, when he underwent colon surgery, also at Gemelli.
His increasing health issues over the past year have sparked widespread concern, including speculation that he might choose to retire rather than stay in the job for life.
His predecessor, Benedict XVI, quit in 2013, in a radical step not seen since the Middle Ages.
Francis marked 10 years as the head of the worldwide Catholic Church earlier this month.
He has pushed through major governance reforms and sought to forge a more open, compassionate Church, although has faced internal opposition, particularly from conservatives.
He has repeatedly said he would consider stepping down were his health to fail him - but said last month that for now, he has no plans to quit.
During Palm Sunday mass, Francis is expected to remain seated while another cleric - probably a senior cardinal - conducts the ceremony at the altar.