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Pope has operation after breaking wrist in fall

world Updated: Jul 17, 2009 18:06 IST
Pope Benedict XVI injures wrist

Pope Benedict XVI underwent an operation in hospital on Friday after falling and breaking his right wrist while on holiday in northern Italy, the Vatican said.

It was the first health scare for the 82-year-old pope since he became head of the Roman Catholic Church in April 2005. But Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told AFP there was "no cause for concern."

The pontiff fell during the night at a chalet where he is staying in the mountain resort of Val d'Aosta, the Vatican said in a communique.

Doctors used local anaesthetic on Benedict to operate on the wrist, Italian media reported.

Benedict, who is right-handed and an avid pianist in his leisure time, began a two-week holiday in the hamlet of Les Combes d'Introd on Monday. The pope had a piano sent to the chalet, media reports said.

Vatican sources told ANSA news agency the pope slipped and fell but was not ill and had not fainted.

Benedict has had no notable health problems since his election following the death of John Paul II, whose final years were marked by visible pain and suffering from Parkinson's disease.

Four years before he became pope however, the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger spent nearly a month in hospital following a brain haemorrhage, according to the German daily Bild. It said he has suffered from fainting spells.

The pope's older brother Georg Ratzinger revealed that he was "very frightened" when Benedict was elected because of his age -- 78 at the time.

"I'm very frightened. I thought that his advanced age and his health, which is not so stable, would be reason enough for the cardinals to look for someone else," Georg Ratzinger, now 85, told German television.

In another interview he told the German Catholic news agency KNA that his brother was not in "very robust health... nor is his heart especially strong."

Benedict set off alarm bells early Friday when he was seen entering the emergency wing of the Aosta hospital accompanied by his personal secretary Monsignor Georg Gaenswein.

The Vatican communique said an X-ray had determined that the German pope had a "slight fracture" to the wrist. Benedict celebrated mass and had breakfast before going to hospital, the Vatican said. He entered the hospital at 9:45 am (0745 GMT) and the operation began shortly after noon.

ANSA, citing "semi-official" hospital sources, said the pope also underwent an overall checkup that revealed no serious problems.

The Holy See does not issue regular bulletins on the pope's state of health. Journalists have observed signs of fatigue in the pontiff following some of his overseas trips.

When he travelled to Australia last year, Benedict took several days off in the country before beginning his official appearances at World Youth Day celebrations in Sydney.