While Italy is in the midst of coronavirus outbreak, with towns on lockdown and travelers spreading it around Europe. Illness forces the Pope to cancel an event in Rome a day after showing solidarity with coronavirus sufferers and shaking hands with the congregation at weekly audience.
VATICAN (Zenit) – Pope Francis has been forced to cancel a planned Mass in Rome with other clergies after suffering a ‘slight illness’. The Vatican said the 83-year-old pontiff had a ‘slight indisposition’ that meant he did not attend an event at the St John Lateran basilica in Rome on Thursday morning.
A spokesman said Francis would continue with the rest of his day’s business, but preferred to stay within the Vatican rather than travel across the city. There was no word from the Vatican about the nature of his illness, but the pope was seen coughing and blowing his nose during the Ash Wednesday Mass.
The Vatican said that Francis failed to attend a morning Mass at the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano because of a ‘slight indisposition’, having appeared unwell the previous evening.
Earlier in the day, Francis had met with crowds in St Peter’s Square where he touched hands and kissed faces, despite warnings over coronavirus.
Northern Italy is currently in the grips of a coronavirus outbreak, which has spread across the country. Cases have been confirmed in Rome, where the Vatican is located.
Francis had been scheduled to go to the St John Lateran basilica to meet with Rome clergy and celebrate a penitential Mass at the start of Lent. Francis is the bishop of Rome but delegates the day-to-day running of the archdiocese to a vicar.
The Argentine pope has generally enjoyed good health. He lost part of one lung as a young man because of a respiratory illness and suffers from sciatica, which makes walking difficult. Francis has had a busy schedule lately, including his public general audience on Wednesday and the Ash Wednesday service later in the day in a Roman basilica.
Pope Francis is known for hugging the faithful or accepting kisses on his cheek or forehead. However, a year ago he explained his reticence for allowing people to kiss his ring, explaining the practice could spread germs.
In his Ash Wednesday homily marking the beginning of Lent, the pope exhorted the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics to ‘switch off the television and open the Bible’.
He urged followers to give up trolling people on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook for Lent. He said there was too much ‘verbal violence’ in the world which was ‘amplified by the internet’.
Francis added that Lent was ‘a time to give up useless words, gossip, rumors, tittle-tattle and speak to God on a first name basis.’
In Italy, 50 more cases have been confirmed – including eight children – of COVID-19 taking the toll past 370. Twelve patients have died.
Almost a dozen towns have been quarantined in the northern part of the country in a desperate attempt to contain the worsening coronavirus crisis. Cases from Italy have now been confirmed in Austria, Croatia, Germany, Switzerland, France, Greece, and Spain, as well as Algeria and Brazil.
It comes after thousands of British families jetted to Italy during the half-term break from schools last week and Easter holidays are just five weeks away.
More than 82,000 cases of the COVID-19 – the disease caused by the coronavirus – have been recorded across the world, with the death toll nearing 2,800.
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