ROME — Pope Francis returned to the Vatican on Wednesday after a 10-day hospital stay, a development that was welcome news for his followers who had been caught off guard by word that he had required colon surgery.
Yet the collective sigh of relief was tempered by questions of whether pope’s health problems will slow him down or accelerate discussion on issues that he has asked his church to consider, such as married priests, the role of women in the church, the embrace of gay Catholics and Communion for the divorced and remarried.
The Vatican has said that his surgery on July 4 was a scheduled operation. But the unexpected announcement that the 84-year-old pope had been hospitalized alarmed many of the faithful because of the seriousness of the surgery and the Vatican’s history of obfuscation when it comes to the health of pontiffs.
On Wednesday, the pope sat in the front seat of a Ford Focus as it arrived outside the Vatican walls, where he greeted the soldiers who keep watch and the police officers who had escorted him from the hospital, before getting back into the car. He then entered the Vatican through a side door near the guesthouse — the Casa Santa Marta — where he has lived for the past eight years, and was saluted by the gendarmerie.
Matteo Bruni, a Vatican spokesman, said that Francis had been discharged from Rome’s Gemelli hospital midmorning, and before returning to the Vatican, took a detour to the Basilica of St. Mary Major, where he regularly goes after trips abroad.
At the basilica, before a venerated icon of the Virgin Mary, the pope “expressed his gratitude for the success of his surgery and offered a prayer for all the sick, especially those he had met during his stay in hospital,” Mr. Bruni said in a statement.
The pope’s arrival at the Vatican was broadcast live on national television. Francis got in and out of the car with visible difficulty, but nonetheless stood on his own as he greeted the police and smiled.
It was the first time that Francis has faced a significant health issue during his eight-year papacy. Apart from recurrent episodes of sciatica, a nerve condition that causes back, hip and leg pain, and the odd cold, the pope has rarely missed scheduled events.
Daily medical updates by the Vatican communications office have been short on detail, describing the pope’s post-surgery convalescence as normal.
Francis made a public appearance on Sunday, when he led the Angelus prayer and blessing from the balcony of his suite on the 10th floor of his Rome hospital. The Vatican News website, a Vatican-controlled media portal, posted pictures of the pope during his convalescence while he was using a wheelchair.
Jason Horowitz contributed reporting.