Pope Francis has been forced to cancel a planned Mass in Rome with other clergy 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.
Pope Francis has cancelled an event in Rome on Thursday morning due to a ‘slight illness’, a day after he was pictured coughing and blowing his nose during 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
Pope Francis as arrives to lead the Ash Wednesday Mass, where he appeared unwell during the ceremony
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
Pope Francis caresses a child’s cheek as he takes part in his weekly general audience at the Vatican, a day before missing an engagement due to illness
Cardinal Vicar Angelo De Donatis reads a speech prepared by Pope Francis to members of the clergy after the pontiff was unable to attend morning Mass
Francis did later emerge to hold Mass at the Church of Saint Martha in Vatican City, with officials insisting that he would carry out the rest of his day’s duties
It comes a day after he kissed heads and touched faces as he met with crowds in St Peter’s Square, saying he had solidarity with those suffering from coronavirus.
Italy is currently in the grips of a coronavirus outbreak that has seen towns in the north placed on lockdown and travellers from the region spread the infection to previously unaffected areas of Europe.
Rome had three cases, but all three were cured.
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 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 kisses a child at the end of his weekly general audience in St Peter’s Square in Vatican City
Pope Francis greets catholic faithfuls at St Peter’s square in the Vatican at the end of his weekly general audience
The Vatican said that Francis would continue with the rest of his work on Thursday, but cancelled a meeting with priests because he preferred to stay at home (pictured meeting crowds on Wednesday)
Pope Francis poses with faithful from Iraq in St. Peter’s Square during his weekly audience
Several people in the crowd wore face masks to protect themselves against infection as they waited to see Francis on Wednesday
Only a few of the 12,000 or so faithful who turned out to see him on Saint Peter’s Square were wearing face masks.
But the 83-year-old Francis did not shy away from shaking hands with members of the congregation – and even kissed some of the children present.
Pope Francis is known 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.
Pope Francis greets faithful in St. Peter’s Square during his weekly audience on February 26, 2020 in Vatican City
‘I would like to express my closeness to the coronavirus patients and to the health workers who are treating them, as well as to the civil authorities,’ Pope Francis said
People wear face masks as a precaution to the outbreak of Coronavirus in Italy, during the weekly General Audience at St. Peter’s Square
Faithful wear face masks as they wait for Francis arrival in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican for his weekly general audience
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, rumours, tittle-tattle and speak to God on a first name basis.’
It comes as 50 more cases – including eight children – of COVID-19 have now been confirmed in Italy, 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.