World

Concerns over Pope’s health as he misses Good Friday procession in Rome

The Vatican made a last-minute announcement that the pontiff would instead be watching the Way of the Cross procession from his apartments.

Vatican ushers carry Pope Francis’s chair prior to the start of the Via Crucis at the Colosseum on Good Friday (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Pope's chair is moved Vatican ushers carry Pope Francis’s chair prior to the start of the Via Crucis at the Colosseum on Good Friday (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia) (Gregorio Borgia/AP)

Pope Francis skipped the traditional Good Friday procession at Rome’s Colosseum to protect his health, the Vatican said, adding to concerns about his frail condition during a particularly busy liturgical period.

Francis had been expected to preside over the Way of the Cross procession, which re-enacts Christ’s Passion and crucifixion, and composed the meditations that are read aloud at each station.

But just as the event was about to begin, the Vatican announced that Francis was following the event from his home at the Vatican.

“To conserve his health in view of the vigil tomorrow and Mass on Easter Sunday, Pope Francis will follow the Via Crucis at the Colosseum this evening from the Casa Santa Marta,” a statement from the Vatican press office said.

Vicar General Cardinal Angelo De Donatis presides over the Via Crucis in front of the Colosseum in Rome (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Italy Pope Good Friday Vicar General Cardinal Angelo De Donatis presides over the Via Crucis in front of the Colosseum in Rome (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) (Andrew Medichini/AP)

It was the first time he had skipped the traditional, evocative event in his 11-year papacy, and recalled the Good Friday that St John Paul II famously watched from the Apostolic Palace just before he died in 2005.

The 87-year-old Francis, who had part of one lung removed as a young man, has been battling what he and the Vatican have described as a case of the flu, bronchitis or a cold all winter long.

For the last several weeks he has occasionally asked an aide to read aloud his speeches and skipped his Palm Sunday homily altogether.

The decision to not attend the Good Friday procession appeared to be very last-minute: Francis’ chair was in place on the platform where he was to preside over the rite.

His closest aide, Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza, was on hand and moved the television screen around on the platform so Francis would have a better view of what was going on inside the Colosseum itself.

But at 9.10pm, five minutes before the official start of the procession, the Vatican press office announced on Telegram that he would not be taking part. The chair was quickly taken away.

The sudden announcement recalled Francis’ last-minute decision on Palm Sunday, when the Vatican issued the Pope’s homily in advance to journalists, and his aide got up to give him his glasses to read it, when Francis made clear he was skipping it.