The car carrying Pope Francis leaves the Gemelli Isola Tiberina...

The car carrying Pope Francis leaves the Gemelli Isola Tiberina Hospital in Rome, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. Pope Francis, who has been suffering from the flu, was brought to a hospital in central Rome aboard a small white Fiat 500 after the papal audience on Wednesday, leaving again in the same car after a short period. The Vatican had no immediate comment. Credit: AP/Andrew Medichini

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis, who recently had the flu, was brought to a hospital in Rome for diagnostic testing after the papal audience Wednesday, the Vatican said, without giving further details.

The pope arrived at the Gemelli Hospital on Tiber Island in a small white Fiat 500, leaving again under escort in the same car after a short visit.

Earlier in the day, the 87-year-old pope was pushed in a wheelchair into the audience hall at the Vatican, appearing weary as he dropped heavily into his seat. In recent weeks he has walked the short distance to his chair, but he has been struggling with mild flu symptoms the past week.

The pope also canceled appointments Saturday and Monday due to the flu, but appeared as usual for the Sunday blessing from a window overlooking St. Peter's Square.

Last week, Francis coughed repeatedly as he presided over Ash Wednesday services at a Roman church, and opted not to participate in the traditional procession that inaugurates the church’s Lenten season.

This time of year in 2020, just as the coronavirus pandemic was starting to hit Italy, Francis also suffered a bad cold that forced him to cancel several days of official audiences and his participation in the Vatican’s annual spiritual retreat. The Vatican had already scrubbed the retreat for this year in favor of personal spiritual exercises

The Argentine pope had part of one lung removed as a young man because of a respiratory infection, and in 2021 had a chunk of his colon removed because of an intestinal inflammation. He has been using a wheelchair and cane since last year because of strained knee ligaments and a small knee fracture that have made walking and standing difficult.

Pope Francis arrives on a wheelchair at his weekly general...

Pope Francis arrives on a wheelchair at his weekly general audience in the Paul VI Hall, at the Vatican, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. Credit: AP/Andrew Medichini

The Pope used his brief words at the end of Wednesday's audience to mark the 25th anniversary of the ratification of the Anti-Personnel Mines Convention, expressing his “closeness to the numerous victims of these insidious devices that remind us of the dramatic cruelty of war.”

He also appealed for peace in the Middle East, Ukraine and prayed for the victims of attacks in Burkina Faso and Haiti.

At the end of the audience, the pope spent about an hour greeting the faithful from his wheelchair, stopping to talk, bless babies and exchange gifts.

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