Pope Francis skipped his weekly public blessing as he convalesces from abdominal surgery in a Rome hospital but walked a few steps, followed Mass on TV and did some work, the Vatican said.

Francis also ate lunch in his 10th-floor Gemelli hospital apartment with doctors, nurses, other medical staff and members of his security detail, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a written statement.

The surgeon who performed the three-hour surgery on Wednesday to repair an abdominal hernia and to remove painful internal scarring that had resulted from previous operations said the 86-year-old pontiff has begun a semi-liquid diet.

Dr Sergio Alfieri also told reporters that medical staff had made clear to Francis their concerns that if the pontiff delivered the noon public blessing and greeting from a balcony down the corridor from his hospital room, he might over-exert himself and tear a prosthetic mesh that was inserted as part of the hernia repair.

If that happened, it would require another operation. The public blessing usually takes about 15 minutes.

Citing the assessment of medical personnel, Mr Bruni said the pontiff’s recovery was proceeding normally. “He did respiratory physiotherapy and continued to be mobile,” Mr Bruni said.

As a young man, Francis had part of a lung removed due to infection, so his pulmonary function is keenly watched. In March, he spent a few days in the same hospital for intravenous antibiotic treatment of bronchitis that caused a fever.

On Sunday morning, the pope “followed Holy Mass live on television and received the Eucharist”, Mr Bruni said.

Francis then recited the traditional noon prayer known as the Angelus in a small chapel area of the papal apartment that Gemelli keeps ready for whenever pontiffs might need hospital treatment.

On Sunday evening, the Vatican gave a brief update on the pope’s progress, saying he passed the afternoon well. “Pope Francis was able to take a few steps. He dedicated himself for a few hours to work, alternating that with rest and prayer,” the Holy See’s press office said.

Even before surgery, walking has been challenging for Francis, due to a chronic knee problem. Depending on distance, he either uses a wheelchair or a cane to get around.

No date has been announced for Francis’s return to the Vatican. But Dr Alfieri on Saturday revealed that medical staff were encouraging him to spend all of this week at the hospital so he would be in better shape to manage his heavy workload once he went home.

Two years ago, when Francis had surgery to remove a section of his colon that had narrowed, the pope, flanked by a few children, delivered a Sunday blessing from a 10th-floor hospital balcony, seven days after that procedure.

He was discharged 10 days after the operation.

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