Pope Francis prayed with a crowd of thousands in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, two days after he was discharged from a Rome hospital, giving thanks for the “closeness” he had felt during his hospitalization for abdominal surgery.

A thunderous cheer along with scattered calls of “Viva il papa!” — Italian for “Long live the pope!” — greeted the pontiff when he appeared at a window in the Apostolic Palace, from where he addresses the faithful on Sundays. Before reciting the Angelus prayer and a blessing, Francis, 86, expressed “gratitude” for the “affection, care and friendship” that he had felt during his hospitalization.

“This human closeness and spiritual closeness were of great help and comfort to me,” he added. “Thank you all.”

Some 15,000 gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday under a hot sun, according to the Vatican authorities.

“For me, it was very emotional,” said Alexa Lopez, a missionary for the Neocatechumenal Way, a Roman Catholic faith formation community, who had traveled with a group from Miami. She said that she had been “very happy to see the pope and the courage that he has to come and give us the good news of God’s love in spite of his health, in spite of his age, in spite of all the difficulties that he has.”

On June 7, Francis underwent surgery under general anesthesia on what is known as an incisional hernia, typically the consequence of previous operations, that had been causing painful intestinal blockages. He spent nine days at the Policlinico A. Gemelli hospital in Rome and was discharged on Friday. Doctors have cautioned him to take it easy in coming weeks to try to ensure a full recovery.

Large screens at St. Peter’s Square announced that a general audience on Wednesday would be canceled. The Vatican said in a statement on Friday that the decision had been made “to safeguard the Holy Father’s post-surgery recovery.”

Francis is scheduled to visit Portugal from Aug. 2 to Aug. 6 to participate in World Youth Day events, and then Mongolia from Aug. 31 to Sept. 4. Sergio Alfieri, the surgeon who operated on him, told reporters on Friday morning that the pope would be able to handle the trips “better than before” because “he’s a stronger pope” after undergoing the procedure.

Father Andrea Vignati, a Rome-based priest who was in St. Peter’s on Sunday, said he thought the pope “sounded a little fatigued, but I think that’s normal after an operation like the one he went through.” Angela Spera, who works for a car rental company, and was visiting from Rieti, about an hour’s drive north of Rome, said the pontiff’s demeanor was reassuring. “He always seems serene, so people don’t worry,” she said.

Francis on Sunday also offered prayers for the victims of the shipwreck off Greece this past week, “I implore that always, everything is done to avoid similar tragedies,” he said. And he prayed for the victims of a “brutal attack” on a school in western Uganda where at least 37 died.

“Let’s pray for peace” there, he said, as well as in “tortured Ukraine.”

Melissa Paruolo, a teacher from Oklahoma, said that she had been “overwhelmed” seeing the pope. “It was an amazing experience,” she said. The pope seemed a bit breathless, she noted, “but he seemed very happy to be back and speaking to people.”


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