Pope skips Good Friday procession ‘to preserve his health’

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Pope Francis cancelled at the last minute his attendance at the Good Friday procession at Rome’s Colosseum, in what the Vatican described as a bid “to preserve his health” ahead of more Easter week engagements.

Francis’ agenda for the next two days consists of an Easter Vigil service on Saturday evening and an Easter Mass and the twice-annual “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and world) message and blessing on Sunday morning.

The 87-year-old’s sudden no show is likely to renew concerns about his declining strength. Francis uses a cane or a wheelchair to move around due to a knee ailment and suffers from repeated bouts of bronchitis and influenza.

Good Friday leads on Sunday to Easter, the most important and joyous date in the Church’s liturgical calendar, commemorating the day Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead.

The Vatican announced the pope’s absence from the “Via Crucis” (Way of the Cross) procession just as it was about to start, saying in a statement he would follow it remotely from his Vatican residence.

Francis, who had looked fitter this week after weeks in which he struggled to speak in public and canceled some meetings, also missed the procession last year, after recovering from a four-day hospital stay for bronchitis.