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Pope Skips Good Friday Event to Preserve Health ahead of Easter, Vatican Says

ROME  — Pope Francis skipped the traditional Good Friday procession at Rome’s Colosseum to protect his health, the Vatican said, making a last-minute decision that added 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.

While Francis had also skipped the event in 2023 because he was recovering from bronchitis and it was a particularly cold night, his last-minute decision to stay home this year 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.

Monsignor Krzysztof Marcjanowicz puts the skull cap on Pope Francis during the liturgy of the passion on Good Friday in St. Peter’s Basilica at The Vatican, Friday, Mar. 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinelli

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 9:10 p.m., five minutes before the official start of the procession, the Vatican press office announced on Telegram that he wouldn’t show up. The chair was quickly taken away.

The hasty 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.

Francis had appeared in good form earlier in the day for a Good Friday liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica, though he remained seated throughout and it was not a particularly taxing event that required him to speak at length.

On Saturday, he is to preside over a lengthy evening Easter Vigil in St. Peter’s, one of the most solemn events in the liturgical calendar. He also is due to preside over Easter Sunday Mass in the piazza and deliver his “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) speech rounding up global crises and threats to humanity.

In addition to his respiratory problems, Francis had a chunk of his large intestine removed in 2021 and was hospitalized twice last year, including once to remove intestinal scar tissue from previous surgeries to address diverticulosis, or bulges in his intestinal wall.

In his recently published memoirs, “Life: My Story Through History,” Francis said he isn’t suffering from any health problems that would require him to resign and that he still has “ many projects to bring to fruition.”

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