As the spiritual leader of more than 1.3 billion Catholics, Pope Francis’ health invites more than just passing concern, considering that he is now 84 years old — and he continues to tackle the enormous responsibilities of his office.
“Pope Francis is doing well and is alert,” according to Mateo Bruni, director of the Holy See press office. Mr. Bruni said that “Pope Francis is doing well overall, alert and breathing well on his own,” after undergoing surgery that took three hours to complete. He added that the Pope is likely to be confined at Gemelli hospital for seven days, barring any complications.”
The surgical procedure sought to remedy the diverticular disease in the Pope’s colon that caused pain and inflammation, an ailment also attributed to aging. Pope Francis was elected in 2013 at age 76 after Pope Benedict XVI stepped down as leader of the Catholic Church.
Before he went under the knife, he extended his personal condolences to the nation and to the family of President Benigno S. Aquino III on the former leader’s untimely demise. Coincidentally, Pope Francis’ priesthood was with the Society of Jesus, the religious order that founded the Ateneo de Manila University, President Aquino’s alma mater.
Pope Francis made a state and pastoral visit to the Philippines on January 15 to 19, 2015, following the footsteps of Pope Paul VI in 1970 and Pope John Paul II in 1995.
The highlight of his visit was to express his compassion and solidarity with thousands of Filipinos affected by Typhoon Haiyan (local name: Yolanda), the strongest typhoon ever recorded on land. He celebrated mass in Tacloban airport amid strong winds and pouring rain.
A mammoth congregation, estimated at between 6 and 7 million, gathered at the Luneta to attend the final Mass of his visit. This was hailed as “the largest papal crowd in history”, eclipsing the crowd at the World Youth Day celebration presided over by Pope John Paul II on the same site in 1995.
The theme of his visit, Mercy and Compassion (Habag at Malasakit in Filipino), resonated with the Filipino faithful who greeted him with loud shots of Mabuhay si Lolo Kiko! (“Long live Grandpa Kiko; shorthand for Francesco, Italian for Francis).
His papacy is anchored on evangelization that emphasizes a missionary perspective to share the faith actively, help the poor and work for social justice. In 2019, he appointed Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, then Archbishop of Manila, to be the Prefect for the Evangelization of Peoples. Recently, he also named Cardinal Tagle to the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See that supervises, among others, the Vatican central bank.
Indeed, Pope Francis has carved for himself a special niche in the hearts of Filipinos. They wish and pray for the health and well being of their Lolo Kiko, whose espousal of mercy and compassion continuously fortifies their faith and renews their hope.