Vatican confirms pontiff suffering ‘illness’ – cancels major Mass in Rome
Just one day after showing solidarity with coronavirus sufferers by hugging and kissing followers while meeting with crowds, Pope Francis has taken ill and been forced to cancel a planned Mass in Rome, according to reports.
The Vatican confirmed the 83-year-old pontiff is suffering from a “slight indisposition” but didn’t elaborate on his condition.
Officials say the pope’s “slight illness” was behind the unusual decision for him to not attend an event at the St John Lateran basilica in Rome on Thursday morning.
Francis would continue with the rest of his day’s business in private and preferred to stay within the Vatican rather than travel across the city, a spokesman said.
The Vatican refused to reveal the nature of his illness, but the pope was seen coughing and blowing his nose during the Ash Wednesday Mass.
The news comes just one day after Francis was kissing heads and touching faces as he met with crowds in St Peter’s Square, vowing to show solidarity with those suffering from coronavirus while Italy is struggling to contain an outbreak of the deadly virus.
Italy is currently in the grips of a coronavirus outbreak that has seen towns in the north placed on lockdown and travelers from the region spread the infection to previously unaffected areas of Europe.
Rome had three cases, but all three were cured.
Francis had been scheduled to go to the St John Lateran basilica to meet with Rome clergy and celebrate a penitential Mass at the start of Lent.
The Argentine pope has generally enjoyed good health.
He lost part of one lung as a young man because of a respiratory illness and suffers from sciatica, which makes walking difficult.
Francis has had a busy schedule lately, including his public general audience on Wednesday and the Ash Wednesday service later in the day in a Roman basilica.
Only a few of the 12,000 or so faithful who turned out to see him on Saint Peter’s Square were wearing face masks.
But the 83-year-old Francis did not shy away from shaking hands with members of the congregation – and even kissed some of the children present.
Pope Francis is known for hugging the faithful or accepting kisses on his cheek or forehead.
However, a year ago he explained his reticence for allowing people to kiss his ring, explaining the practice could spread germs.
In his Ash Wednesday homily marking the beginning of Lent, the pope exhorted the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics to “switch off the television and open the Bible.”
He urged followers to give up trolling people on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook for Lent.
He said there was too much “verbal violence” in the world which was “amplified by the internet.”
Francis added that Lent was “a time to give up useless words, gossip, rumors, tittle-tattle, and speak to God on a first-name basis.”
It comes as 50 more cases – including eight children – of COVID-19 have now been confirmed in Italy, taking the toll past 370.
Twelve patients have died in the country so far.
Almost a dozen towns have been quarantined in the northern part of the country in a desperate attempt to contain the worsening coronavirus crisis.
Cases from Italy have now been confirmed in Austria, Croatia, Germany, Switzerland, France, Greece, and Spain, as well as Algeria and Brazil.
More than 82,000 cases of the COVID-19 – the disease caused by the coronavirus – have been recorded across the world, with the death toll nearing 2,800.