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Pope presides over Easter Vigil despite weakened health

Photo: Filippo Monteforte Agence France-Presse Pope Francis prays during the celebration of the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday, as part of Holy Week celebrations, at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

Nicole Winfield – Associated Press in Rome

March 30, 2024

  • Europe

Pope Francis presided over the Vatican's somber Easter Vigil on Saturday evening, a day after deciding at the last minute not to participate in the Stations of the Cross procession on Good Friday at the Colosseum in Rome for health reasons.

Francis entered the dark and silent St. Peter's Basilica in his wheelchair, took a seat and said an opening prayer. Looking somewhat congested and out of breath, he blessed a richly decorated Paschal candle, the flame of which was then shared with other candles until the entire basilica was sparkling.

Evening Mass, one of the most solemn and important moments in the Catholic liturgical calendar, commemorates the resurrection of Jesus and includes the sacrament of baptism for eight adult converts. The Vatican had said Francis skipped the Good Friday procession to ensure his participation in both the Saturday evening vigil, which usually lasts about two hours, and the Easter Sunday mass a few hours later .

Pope Francis, 87, who had part of a lung removed when he was young, suffered all winter from respiratory problems that prevented him from speaking at length. He and the Vatican said he was suffering from bronchitis, a cold or the flu.

He canceled some hearings and often asked an aide to read some of his speeches aloud. But alarm bells were raised when he completely abandoned his Palm Sunday homily last week at the last minute, then suddenly decided on Friday to stay home rather than preside over the Stations of the Cross procession. at the Colosseum in Rome, reenacting the crucifixion of Christ.

The Vatican said in a brief explanation that the decision was made to “preserve his health.”

While Pope Francis also skipped last year's freezing Good Friday procession because he was recovering from bronchitis, his sudden absence from the event this year highlighted how his fragile health had an impact even on major liturgical events at the Vatican.

The pontiff canceled a trip to Dubai late last year, a few days before his departure, on doctor's orders.

In addition to his breathing problems, the pope had part of his large intestine removed in 2021 and was hospitalized twice last year, including once to remove intestinal scar tissue from previous surgeries to treat diverticulosis or bulges in its intestinal wall. He has been using a wheelchair or cane for almost two years due to knee ligament problems.

In his recently published memoir, Living: My Story Through Big History, the head of the Catholic Church said he did not suffer from any health problems that would force him to resign and that he still had “many projects to complete.”

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116