World

Aide reads speech for unwell Pope Francis

Pope Francis coughed as he reads his message (AP)
Pope Francis coughed as he reads his message (AP) Pope Francis coughed as he reads his message (AP)

The Pope has asked an aide to read a speech for him due to illness at his weekly audience with the public in the Vatican, a day after cancelling an overseas trip.

Francis, who will turn 87 on December 17 and had part of one lung removed as a young man, coughed near the end of the hour-long audience in a Vatican auditorium as he made some final comments, then stood up from his chair on the stage to give his blessing.

With a soft voice, barely above a whisper, Francis told the public that “since I am not well”, his reading of his speech would not sound “pretty”.

He then handed the printed speech to the aide.

Vatican performers
Vatican performers Participants to the Italian Circus festival performed for the Pope (AP)

But Francis did speak at the end of the audience, voicing his contentment over the truce in fighting between Israel and Hamas, and saying he hopes it continues “so that all the hostages are released and access necessary to permit humanitarian aid” to reach Gaza is provided.

“They lack bread, water, the people are suffering,” Francis said.

On Tuesday, the Vatican announced that doctors had asked the pope, who has a lung inflammation causing breathing problems, to cancel a three-day trip to a UN climate conference, known as Cop28, in Dubai.

The trip would have begun on Friday and have seen the pontiff return to Rome on Sunday.

The Holy See’s announcement of the cancellation also said that his medical condition had improved, but noted that the pope had the flu and “inflammation of the respiratory airways”.

The Pope, who has made caring for the environment a priority of his papacy, wants in some way to participate in the discussions in the United Arab Emirates, according to the Holy See.

It was unclear if Francis might read his address to the climate conference by videoconference or take part in some other form.

The Pope
The Pope The pontiff hopes to take part in the climate talks in some way (AP)

The Vatican said the pope had acquiesced to the doctors’ request “with great regret”.

Towards the end of Wednesday’s audience, circus performers came on stage to entertain the pope with an acrobatic act.

Francis looked amused as he watched the performers, including acrobats and a juggler. He posed with the group for a photo.

“I want to say thanks for this moment of joy,” Francis said, adding that the circus expresses the human dimension of “simple joy”, and asking the audience to applaud.

Francis was taken to hospital earlier this year for three days for intravenous treatment with antibiotics of what the Vatican then said was bronchitis.

The Vatican said the pontiff in his current illness was receiving antibiotics intravenously.

In a televised appearance on Sunday, a cannula for intravenous use was visible on his right hand. A CT scan, performed at a Rome hospital on November 25, had ruled out pneumonia, according to the Vatican.