Pope Francis is in hospital in Rome for surgery on his large intestine.

The news from the Vatican came just three hours after Francis had cheerfully greeted the public in St. Peter’s Square and told them he will go to Hungary and Slovakia in September.

It was the pope’s first known hospitalisation since he was elected to the papacy in 2013.

The brief statement from the Holy See’s press office promised a medical update after the surgery was complete at Gemelli Polyclinic, a Catholic teaching hospital.

The Vatican didn’t say when the surgery would begin, only indicating it would take place later in the day.

The Vatican said the 84-year-old pope had been diagnosed with “symptomatic diverticular stenosis of the colon,” a reference to a narrowing in the large intestine. The surgery was to be performed by Dr Sergio Alfieri, the director of Gemelli’s digestive surgery department.

A week earlier, Francis had used his same Sunday appearance to ask the public for special prayers for himself, which may have been related to the planned surgery.

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“I ask you to pray for the pope, pray in a special way,” Francis had asked the faithful in the square on June 27. “The pope needs your prayers,” he said, adding his thanks and saying “I know you will do that.”

Francis is in generally good health, but he did have part of one lung removed as a young man. He also suffers from sciatica, in which a nerve affects the lower back and leg, a painful condition that has forced him at times to skip scheduled appearances.

AAP

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