Pope Francis appears in better health at his weekly audience

By Thomson Reuters Mar 27, 2024 | 4:40 AM

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis, who has been in poor health recently, appeared stronger on Wednesday ahead of a busy Easter week schedule.

The 87-year-old pontiff read out in full his pre-prepared texts at his weekly audience, looking more robust than in recent audiences in which an aide had taken on most of the readings.

Francis made fresh appeals for peace in Ukraine and the Middle East, and greeted two men in the audience, one Israeli and one Palestinian, saying they both lost their daughters in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

He described them as two friends “who love one another and who have experienced the same crucifixion”.

Francis has been suffering on and off from bronchitis and influenza for more than a month, leading him to limit public speaking, cancel some meetings and go to a Rome hospital for medical checks.

Concerns about his condition were renewed three days ago, when he skipped his homily at a Palm Sunday service in St Peter’s Square.

The pontiff is due to preside over a number of services leading up to Easter on Sunday, including a washing of the feet ritual in a women’s prison on Thursday.

Easter is the most important festival in the Christian calendar, celebrating the day on which Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead.

Francis, who also has restricted mobility due to a knee problem, arrived in the Paul VI audience hall on Wednesday walking with a cane, rather than in a wheelchair that he sometimes uses.

He sounded in good spirits as he told the faithful that the event had been moved indoors at the last minute, forcing crowds to relocate from St Peter’s Square, due to rainy weather.

“It’s true that you’re going to be a bit crammed, but at least we won’t be wet,” he said.

(Reporting by Alvise Armellini, editing by Ros Russell)