Pope cancels third day of events in coronavirus-hit Italy

Pope cancels third day of events in coronavirus-hit Italy
Pope cancels third day of events in coronavirus-hit Italy

Pope Francis cancelled his public audiences for the third consecutive day, Feb. 29, due to what the Vatican spokesman, Matteo Bruini, calls “a light indisposition” but he celebrated morning Mass as usual in Santa Marta, the Vatican guesthouse where he lives, and he also held all his scheduled private audiences.

The fact that he has been able to hold his private audience yesterday and today indicates that his condition is not serious. The Vatican released a photo of his meeting with His Beatitude Svistoslav Shevchuk, the Major Archbishop of the Greek Catholic church in the Ukraine. The pope has known the archbishop from his days in Buenos Aires, and the two speak to each other in Spanish.

Mr. Bruni says the pope was feeling “slightly unwell” without elaborating on what caused his condition, but Vatican officials and reporters understand it to mean that he is suffering from the slight cold that he contracted earlier in the week, and particularly at the public audience in St. Peter’s Square on Ash Wednesday and the traditional procession and liturgy on the Aventine Hill and the church of Santa Sabina that same evening, when the weather was cold and windy.

The fact that Pope Francis met not only the Ukrainian major archbishop but also three other prelates this morning suggest that he is in reasonably good health. He held his weekly Saturday morning meeting with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, regarding the appointment of new bishops. He also gave private audiences to two nuncios: Archbishop Celestino Migliore, whom he recently appointed as nuncio in France, and Archbishop Joseph Spiteri, the nuncio in the Lebanon, a country that is in a difficult situation.

At the same time, the Vatican announced that he had cancelled the public audiences scheduled for today, including one much anticipated one with the leadership of the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi, but his speech was published.

Given that the pope has been feeling unwell, many in Rome will be watching whether Francis will appear at the window of the papal study on the third floor of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace at midday on Sunday, March 1, to address pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square and give them his blessing. Given his condition this week, it would seem unwise for him to do so, given that it is cold in Rome in these days, and especially at that high and exposed point in the palace.

Vatican officials and reporters will also be watching whether he decides to travel to the retreat house at Arricia, just under an hour’s drive south of Rome, on Sunday afternoon, March 1, for the week-long spiritual exercises with senior officials of the Roman Curia, a tradition he started in 2014. Some think the 83-year old pontiff would be ill-advised to go there given that the weather is likely to be cold in Arricia and, furthermore, there is concern at the spread of coronavirus in Italy, where 1,049 persons have already tested positive for Coronavirus (including three members of a family from Fiumicino, a town near Rome), and 29 persons (mostly elderly) have died from the virus.

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