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Pope Francis undergoes surgery on his abdomen

by Reuters Journalist

Pope Francis will have an operation on his abdomen on Wednesday afternoon at Rome's Gemelli hospital, the Vatican said in a statement, adding that the 86-year-old pontiff was expected to spend several days in hospital.

The surgery is the latest in a series of health concerns for the leader of the world's 1.4 billion Catholics who has been pope for the past 10 years.

He arrived at Rome's largest hospital, a short drive from the Vatican, at about 11.30am local time (9.30am GMT).

Francis had made no mention of the planned operation at his weekly audience at the Vatican on Wednesday morning, where he appeared in good spirits. 

The Vatican statement said the operation was necessary to repair a laparocele, a hernia that sometimes forms over a scar usually resulting from a previous surgery. It can also be caused by obesity or weakness of the abdominal wall muscles.

The pope's medical team had decided in recent days that surgery, which will take place under a general anaesthetic, was required because the condition was causing painful, intestinal occlusions.

Francis had spent around 40 minutes at the same Roman hospital on Tuesday having a pre-operation procedure.

Travel plans put in place

Francis was treated for five days at the same hospital at the end of March with a lung infection and last month skipped audiences for a day due to a fever. The hospital has a special 10th-floor suite reserved for popes.

In July 2021 he had part of his colon removed in an operation aimed at addressing a painful bowel condition called diverticulitis. He said earlier this year that the condition had returned.

The pope also often uses a wheelchair or a cane to walk because of persistent knee pain. Last year he didn't want to have an operation on his knee because the general anaesthesia for his colon surgery had brought disagreeable side-effects.

Despite his health issues, Francis maintains a busy schedule. The Vatican announced plans on Saturday for him to visit Mongolia from 31st August to 4th Sept, one of the more remote places he has travelled to.

Before that he is due to visit Portugal from 2nd-6th August to attend the World Youth Day in Lisbon and visit the Shrine of Fatima. The Vatican released an official schedule for the trip on Tuesday, giving an indication it was confirmed.

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