Pope Francis attends Easter Vigil after Good Friday health concern

Pope Francis looks at his candle during the Easter Vigil (AFP/Getty)
Pope Francis looks at his candle during the Easter Vigil (AFP/Getty)

Pope Francis presided over the Vatican’s Easter Vigil on Saturday night, a day after making the last-minute decision to skip the Good Friday procession at the Colosseum as a health precaution.

He entered the darkened, silent St Peter’s Basilica in his wheelchair, took his place in a chair and offered an opening prayer.

The evening service, one of the most solemn and important moments in the Catholic liturgical calendar, celebrates the vigil that Christ’s followers held for him outside his tomb, waiting for his resurrection, and includes the sacrament of baptism for eight adult converts.

Francis, 87, who had part of one lung removed as a young man, has been battling respiratory problems all winter that have made it difficult for him to speak at length.

He has cancelled some audiences and often asked an aide to read aloud some of his speeches. But he ditched his Palm Sunday homily altogether and decided at the last minute to stay at home on Good Friday rather than preside over the Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum, re-enacting Christ’s crucifixion.

The Pope prays in St Peter’s Basilica on Saturday (AP)
The Pope prays in St Peter’s Basilica on Saturday (AP)

The Vatican said the decision was made to “conserve his health” in view of the vigil service on Saturday and his even more taxing obligations on Easter Sunday. The pope is due to preside over a morning Easter Mass in St Peter’s Square and deliver his Urbi et Orbi (to the city and the world) speech praying for an end to global crises.

While Francis also skipped the chilly Good Friday procession last year because he was recovering from bronchitis, his sudden absence from the event this year raised concern. His chair was in place on the podium, and his aides were preparing for his arrival when the Vatican announced five minutes before the official start time that he wasn’t coming.

In addition to his respiratory problems, Francis had a chunk of his large intestine removed in 2021 and was hospitalised twice last year, including once to remove intestinal scar tissue from previous surgeries to address diverticulosis, or bulges in his intestinal wall. He has been using a wheelchair or cane for nearly two years because of bad knee ligaments.