Pope Francis greets people during his general audience in the San Damaso Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican June 30, 2021. The pope continued his series of audience talks focused on the Letter to the Galatians and reflected on St. Paul's life and the power of God's grace. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)Pope Francis greets people during his general audience in the San Damaso Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican June 30, 2021. The pope continued his series of audience talks focused on the Letter to the Galatians and reflected on St. Paul's life and the power of God's grace. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis was hospitalized in Rome on Sunday afternoon for scheduled surgery on his large intestine, the Vatican said. The news came just three hours after Francis had cheerfully greeted the public in St. Peter's Square and told them he will go to Hungary and Slovakia in September.

It was the pope's first known hospitalization since he was elected to the papacy in 2013.

The brief statement from the Holy See's press office promised a medical update after the surgery was complete at Gemelli Polyclinic, a Catholic teaching hospital. The Vatican didn't say when the surgery would begin, only indicating it would take place later in the day.

By 9 p.m., there was no indication when the Vatican might issue the update.

The Vatican said the 84-year-old pope had been diagnosed with "symptomatic diverticular stenosis of the colon," a reference to a narrowing in the large intestine. The surgery was to be performed by Dr. Sergio Alfieri, the director of Gemelli's digestive surgery department.

A week earlier, Francis had used his same Sunday appearance to ask the public for special prayers for himself, which may have been related to 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."

A diverticulum is pouch-like protrusion through the muscular wall of the intestine.

When diverticula become inflamed—a common condition, especially in older people—part of the intestine can sometimes narrow and surgery might be required, according to gastroenterologists. Such surgery can be performed under general anesthesia, possibly with a laparoscopic intervention. Sometimes a re-sectioning of the affected part of the intestine is needed.

Francis is in generally good health, but he did have part of one lung removed as a young man. He also suffers from sciatica, in which a nerve affects the lower back and leg, a painful condition that has forced him at times to skip scheduled appearances.

A 10th-floor papal suite is kept available at the hospital in case of need.

While Church law provides for a prelate to take over the administration of the Roman Catholic Church if a pope dies, there is no known provision for a delegation of powers if a pope is temporarily incapacitated, such while under anesthesia.

The pope had a particularly demanding set of appointments last week, including celebrating a Mass on Tuesday to mark the Catholic feast day honoring Saints Peter and Paul, and later in the week, presiding at a special prayer service for Lebanon. On June 28, he also had a long private audience at the Vatican with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Throughout all those engagements, Francis appeared to be in good spirits.

Usually, besides the traditional Sunday noon blessing and remarks from a window of the Apostolic Palace overlooking St. Peter's Square, the pontiff holds a public audience every Wednesday. But, in deference to Rome's heat, the Wednesday appointment gets suspended during July.

Get-well wishes began arriving immediately for Francis. Italian President Sergio Mattarella, as soon as he landed in Paris for a state visit in France, 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 performed surgery before on popes, notably Pope John Paul II, who had what the Vatican said 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.

John Paul also had several medical issues in his final years, including severe complications from Parkinson's disease, and had numerous stays at Gemelli.

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

City and state/province, or if outside Canada or the U.S., city and country. 
When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.

The latest from america

(iStock/catinsyrup)
When the Covid pandemic gave us a chance to kiss the mantle of poverty and self-sacrifice we rebelled, writes Gloria Purvis. When offered the cross, we ran.
Gloria PurvisSeptember 16, 2021
In “Laysongs,” mandolinist Chris Thile lays theatrics and sea captains aside and sings simply and honestly about his struggle to believe.
Elyse DurhamSeptember 16, 2021
A graduate of Regis Jesuit High School in Denver interviews her former theology teacher on her experiences in and out of the classroom.
Erika RasmussenSeptember 16, 2021
My parents instilled in me the lesson that no matter what life threw at me, God would always be there to guide me.
Marie CoronelSeptember 16, 2021