'He's a strong man': In pope's homeland Argentina, prayers for his health but little worry

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In Pope's homeland Argentina, long absence prompts tears and prayers
Catholic faithfuls pray during a mass at the Basilica San Jose de Flores, where Pope Francis used to attend in his childhood, in Buenos Aires, Argentina March 6, 2023. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

BUENOS AIRES, March 30 (Reuters) - In Pope Francis' homeland of Argentina his hospitalization with a respiratory infection has led to an outpouring of prayer for the 86-year-old leader of the Catholic Church, though most remained confident he would soon fully recover.

The Vatican on Thursday said Pope Francis' health was improving and that he has resumed working while treatment continues. In a sign he may be back on his feet, it said he had prayed in a small chapel within his hospital suite.

At the Basilica de San Jose de Flores, in the Buenos Aires neighborhood in which Pope Francis grew up, priest Martin Bourdieu said parishioners got together to pray for him.

"As soon as we found out, the news came, the group that prays the rosary in the afternoon and a group of people came up to ask if we knew more," Bourdieu told Reuters.

"We are praying for him, for his health and his strength. He is a strong man and I think he is going to come out of it."

In the Flores neighborhood, many people reminisced about the pope, who has not been back to his homeland in the decade since he was chosen as pontiff. He grew up as Jorge Bergoglio and studied and was a Cardinal in Buenos Aires.

"From the neighborhood where he was born, where he studied, where he spent his early years, we are all praying for him," said Roberto Pablo D'Anna, head of the Flores barrio museum.

In the Buenos Aires Cathedral on Thursday morning, prayers were held for Pope Francis too, though his illness was cast as a just a "slight halt."

"The truth is that he is a very loved person who is very influential in the world and I want him to keep going," said Oscar Quattordio, who had come to the cathedral to pray. Asked if he was worried for the pope he replied: "No, no, no."

"I think that he is a very strong person. Very strong and well, he has his years, right? It comes to all of us, so at some point it will happen," he said. "God decides when he will touch you. We will have to wait, but always with hope, as in everything."

Back in the neighborhood of Flores, 50-year-old housewife Marcela Borda said everyone was praying for his "speedy recovery".

"It's good to pray for him, to ask for the strength he always had, and health, health for him and for everyone. May he get better soon," she said.

Reporting by Horacio Soria, Miguel Lo Bianco and Juan Bustamante; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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