Pope Francis spent a peaceful second night in hospital for treatment of bronchitis, a Vatican source said Friday, after doctors reported a “marked improvement” in the 86-year-old’s condition.

The pontiff was admitted to Rome’s Gemelli hospital on Wednesday for what the Vatican initially said were pre-planned tests, after complaining of breathing difficulties.

Medical staff said in a statement late Thursday that Francis was suffering from an “infectious bronchitis which required the administration of antibiotics”.

The treatment has resulted in “a marked improvement in his state of health” and the pontiff could be back home in the Vatican “in the coming days”, it said.

By Thursday morning he was feeling well enough to eat, pray and work from his private suite on the tenth floor of the hospital, according to the Vatican.

“Last night also passed peacefully,” the source said on Friday morning.

The pope’s infection, just weeks after he marked 10 years as head of the worldwide Catholic Church, has sparked widespread concern while also fuelling speculation about his future.

The Argentine, who had part of one lung removed as a young man, has suffered increasing health issues in recent years, and it was his second stay in hospital since 2021.

The pope’s illness has raised questions over whether he will be at services in the Holy Week and Easter, Christianity’s most important holiday.

Francis would normally preside over the celebrations, which kick off this weekend with Palm Sunday.

Slowing down

A Jesuit who seems most happy being among his flock, Francis continues to travel internationally and keep a busy schedule.

But he has been forced to use a wheelchair and walking stick in the past year because of knee pain, and admitted last summer that he had to slow down.

He said Thursday that he was “touched by the many messages” he was receiving in hospital, thanking on Twitter those praying for his recovery.

Among them is US President Joe Biden, only the second Catholic president in US history.

“Jill and I are keeping Pope Francis in our prayers and send our best wishes for his swift and full recovery,” Biden tweeted.

“The world needs Pope Francis.”

Francis was admitted in July 2021 to the same Rome hospital for 10 days for a colon operation after suffering from a type of diverticulitis, an inflammation of pockets that develop in the lining of the intestine.

In an interview in January, the pope said the diverticulitis had returned.

Francis has repeatedly said he would consider stepping down if his health required it, following the example of his predecessor Benedict XVI.

The German theologian, who died on December 31, shocked the world in 2013 by becoming the first pope since the Middle Ages to resign.

Francis has cautioned, however, that papal resignations should not be the norm, and said in an interview in February that the idea was currently not “on my agenda”.