Concern for Pope Francis given his poor health for months: Surprisingly and at very short notice, the head of the Catholic Church canceled his participation in the traditional Way of the Cross in Rome on Good Friday. Just a few minutes before the start of the “Via Crucis” at the Colosseum, the Holy See announced that the 87-year-old would follow the atmospheric procession from his residence in the Vatican in order to protect his health.

The decision must have been made very spontaneously, because a white chair for the Pope was already ready on a hill opposite the ancient amphitheater – and behind it were high-ranking church representatives and the mayor of Rome. The chair was only taken away shortly after the cancellation.

Health problems

Francis is struggling with health problems: he has been suffering from the consequences of a stubborn respiratory infection for months. He clearly finds it difficult to speak for long periods of time. At public appearances, his employees often had to recite the prepared texts.

Last year – shortly before Easter – he was plagued by bronchitis, for which he had to be treated in hospital for a few days. A few months later, Francis had to undergo open abdominal surgery.

Last year, after recovering from bronchitis, the Pope had to forego attending the Stations of the Cross outdoor service at the Colosseum for a short time. It was the first time since the beginning of his pontificate in 2013 that a Stations of the Cross took place without Francis. For his predecessors, this only happened in 2005. John Paul II, who was seriously ill, followed the procession from the Vatican – he died a short time later.

Tight holiday program

At Easter time, the Pope traditionally has to complete a tight holiday program. First up is the Easter Vigil liturgy this Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m. in St. Peter’s Basilica. This is one of the most important services of the church year and lasts several hours.

The Italian news agency Ansa reported at midday that the Pope’s participation in the Easter Vigil had been confirmed. The Holy See initially did not officially comment on whether Francis would attend as planned.

The celebratory highlight is the big Easter mass in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday. The Pope then announces the Easter message and gives the traditional blessing “Urbi et Orbi”, i.e. to the city and the world.

However, in the days before his cancellation on Good Friday, the pontiff appeared relatively fresh and recovered. Before the “Via Crucis”, the pontiff celebrated the Good Friday liturgy “Suffering and Death of the Lord” in St. Peter’s Basilica. The day before, on Maundy Thursday, he also attended the Last Supper Mass in a women’s prison in Rome as planned. Sitting in a wheelchair, he washed and kissed the feet of twelve inmates at the prison in Rebibbia. When speaking to guards and clergy, he joked and chatted animatedly with them.