Advertisement

Pope Francis presides over Vatican's Easter vigil after pulling out of Good Friday service

Pope Francis in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican (AP)
Pope Francis in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican (AP)

Pope Francis presided over the Vatican's somber Easter Vigil service on Saturday night, a day after making the last-minute decision to skip his participation in the Good Friday procession at the Colosseum as a health precaution.Francis entered the darkened, silent St. Peter's Basilica in his wheelchair, took his place in a chair and offered an opening prayer. Sounding somewhat congested and out of breath, he blessed an elaborately decorated Easter candle, the flame of which was then shared with other candles until the whole basilica twinkled.The evening service, one of the most solemn and important moments in the Catholic liturgical calendar, commemorates the resurrection of Jesus and includes the sacrament of baptism for eight adult converts. The Vatican had said Francis skipped the Good Friday procession to ensure his participation in both the vigil service Saturday night, which usually lasts about two hours, and Easter Sunday Mass a few hours later.The 87-year-old Francis, 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 and the Vatican have said he has had bronchitis, a cold or the flu.He has canceled some audiences and often asked an aide to read aloud some of his speeches. But the alarm was raised when he ditched his Palm Sunday homily altogether last week at the last minute and then decided suddenly Friday to stay home rather than preside over the Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum re-enacting Christ's crucifixion.The Vatican said in a brief explanation that the decision was made to "conserve his health."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 underscored how his frail health was impacting even major liturgical events at the Vatican.Francis cancelled a trip to Dubai late last year, with just days to go, on doctor's orders.In addition to his respiratory problems, Francis had a chunk of his large intestine removed in 2021 and was hospitalized 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.In his recently published memoirs, "Life: My Story Through History," Francis said he isn't suffering from any health problems that would require him to resign and that he still has " many projects to bring to fruition."