Pope Francis joked that he was still alive as he left hospital in Rome following a three-day stay - after being admitted to Gemelli Hospital with breathing difficulties, and later diagnosed with bronchitis. The Vatican said that he was responding to antibiotics and would be released, depending on test results.

He was smiling and waving from the car, saying: "I wasn't frightened, I'm still alive," before getting out to speak to a crowd. The 86-year-old pontiff told reporters and well-wishers outside the hospital before being driven away to the Vatican.

The Pope's admission to hospital came ahead of the busiest week in the Christian calendar to mark Easter, but a Vatican spokesperson said that Pope Francis was expected to take part in the weekend's service for Palm Sunday. He was set to return to the papal residence Santa Marta, within the Vatican, once he had left hospital.

The Argentine pontiff, who marked 10 years as head of the Catholic Church recently, has suffered a number of health issues throughout his life, including having part of one of his lungs removed at age 21. He has also used a wheelchair in recent months because of problems related to his knee.

The Pope, however, has remained active, visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan in February. The previous month, he led the funeral of his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI.