Pope makes first public appearance following illness

Pope, 83, stifles a cough as he delivers his Sunday message at the Vatican after cancelling four days of events as he battled a cold in coronavirus-hit Italy – but confirms he is not well enough for Lent spiritual retreat

  • Pope makes first public appearance since he was seen coughing last Wednesday
  • Francis forced to cancel official audiences and activities over the ‘mild ailment’
  • During Ash Wednesday Mass in Rome, Pope was seen coughing and sneezing
  • Despite delivering weekly address today, the pontiff cancelled a spiritual retreat 
  • He told the crowd of pilgrims: ‘Unfortunately a cold will force me not take part’

Pope Francis today made his first public appearance in four days following what the Vatican has called a ‘slight indisposition’ that forced him to cancel some audiences and activities.

The 83-year-old Roman Catholic leader appeared at the window of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace to address thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly Sunday noon message and blessing.

It was his first public appearance since an Ash Wednesday Mass in Rome, during which he was seen coughing and sneezing.

Despite recovering enough to make his weekly Sunday address, Francis was forced to cancel a planned spiritual retreat due to start later today. 

He made the surprise announcement to the crowd of pilgrims: ‘Unfortunately a cold will force me not take part this year.’

Pope Francis leading his Sunday Angelus prayer from the window of his office overlooking Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican today

Pope Francis coughs as he recites the Angelus noon prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square

People wearing protective face masks during the Pope Francis’ Sunday Angelus in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican today 

A coughing Pope Francis told pilgrims gathered for the traditional blessing today he is cancelling his participation at a week-long spiritual retreat in the Roman countryside because of a cold.

The pope’s is illness came to light last Wednesday, a day after he was pictured kissing heads and touching faces as he met with crowds in St. Peter’s Square, saying he had solidarity with those suffering from coronavirus.

As a result Pope Francis postponed his official appointments on Friday and was ‘working from home’, the Vatican said.

A day earlier he cancelled a scheduled appearance at mass because of the ‘mild ailment’ as it was described by the Vatican.

He was forced him to spend Thursday around his Saint Martha’s guest house in the Vatican.

But he still continued celebrating the morning mass and receiving visitors even as public events were cancelled and schools closed across swathes of Italy this week because of the coronavirus outbreak.

He met with the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church head Sviatoslav Shevchuk and was meant to join the entire Roman Curia – the Holy See’s administrative institutions – at the retreat on Sunday.

Faithful wearing protective masks in St. Peter’s Square today as the pope spoke for the first time in public for four days after suffering from ‘a cold’ 

Francis leading his Sunday Angelus prayer from the window of his office. It was his first public appearance in four days 

A coughing Pope Francis told pilgrims today gathered for the traditional Sunday blessing that he is cancelling his participation at a week-long spiritual retreat in the Roman countryside because of a cold

He was also due to celebrate a daily mass in a chapel and listen to the teachings of a Jesuit preacher while seated alongside members of the Curia.

The 83-year-old appeared earlier in the week to be suffering from a cold. He was seen blowing his nose and coughing during the Ash Wednesday service, and his voice sounded hoarse.

The Vatican has not specified what was ailing Francis. However, amid fears in Italy over an outbreak of coronavirus, spokesman Matteo Bruni dismissed on Friday speculation that the pope was anything more than slightly unwell.

‘There is no evidence that would lead to diagnosing anything but a mild indisposition,’ he said.

However, the Pope Francis announced during his speech he will be cancelling a planned retreat due to a ‘cold’. 

Francis (pictured last week) was seen coughing and wiping his nose during the Ash Wednesday mass which opens Lent

Pope Francis giving his speech on Wednesday during his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican

On Sunday afternoon, Francis and senior Vatican officials were due to travel to a Church residence south of Rome for their annual week-long Lenten spiritual retreat. 

But today he said the illness he is suffering from will force him to skip the week-long Lenten spiritual event that had been due to start later in the day. 

He told thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square: ‘Unfortunately a cold will force me not take part this year [in the retreat]. I will follow the meditations from here.’

The pontiff appeared to still be suffering from the effects of his illness and was seen coughing as he recited the Angelus noon prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square.

It is the first time in his seven-year papacy that he has missed the spiritual exercises that he initiated early in his pontificate to mark the start of each Lenten season. 

Italy is suffering the worst outbreak of coronavirus in Europe, registering more than 1,100 confirmed cases since February 20. At least 29 people have died.

Francis is missing a part of one lung. It was removed when he was in his early 20s in his native Buenos Aires after an illness.

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