Pope Francis skips Palm Sunday homily at start of busy Holy Week that will test his health

ROME –

Pope Francis decided at the last minute to skip his homily during Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square, avoiding a grueling speech at the start of a busy Holy Week that will test his increasingly fragile health.

Affected by knee problems and persistent breathing problems, Francis also did not participate in the procession of cardinals around the obelisk in the square at the beginning of the mass. Instead, the 87-year-old pontiff blessed the palm fronds and olive branches they carried. for the faithful from the altar.

Francis was expected to deliver a homily mid-service and a prepared text was distributed to journalists. But when an attendee handed Francis his glasses to begin reading, the pope made it clear that he would not be delivering the remarks, leaving the crowd waiting in silence.

Vatican officials did not immediately explain why. The Vatican press office later said the homily was replaced by “a moment of silence and prayer.”

However, Francis offered prayers throughout the service and offered a lengthy appeal for peace at the end of the mass. He said he was praying for the families of those killed in what he called an “inhumane” attack on a concert hall in Moscow’s suburbs and also asked for prayers for “martyred Ukraine” and the people of Gaza.

Vatican officials estimated that about 60,000 people attended the mass, held under sunny, windy spring skies. Francis spent several minutes greeting them from the popemobile, circling the square several times at the end of the service.

Palm Sunday begins a busy week for Francis that precedes Easter Sunday, when the faithful commemorate the resurrection of Christ. On Thursday, Francis will travel to a women’s prison in Rome for the traditional foot-washing ritual. On Friday he is scheduled to preside over the torch-lit Way of the Cross procession at Rome’s Colosseum, depicting the crucifixion of Christ.

The next day is the Easter Vigil, during which Francis presides over a solemn evening service in the basilica, followed by the Easter Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square and his blessing at noon from the loggia above.

The Easter schedule is challenging for popes even under the best of circumstances. But that’s especially true this year for Francis, who has been battling on and off all winter with what he and the Vatican have described as a case of the flu, bronchitis or a cold. Over the past few weeks, he has occasionally asked an assistant to read aloud his speeches and catechism lessons to save him the effort.

On Sunday no substitute was called and the homily was skipped. Vatican officials said the prepared text should be considered to have never existed. The Pope does not typically deliver a homily at Holy Week, but traditionally offers reflections on Palm Sunday.

Even when he is not sick, Francisco often speaks in a whisper and seems to get out of breath easily. He had part of his lung removed when he was young due to a respiratory infection.

Last year around this time he was hospitalized for three days with an acute case of bronchitis, but then recovered to make it through Easter. He has been hospitalized two other times during his pontificate for abdominal surgery, including a 10-day stay in 2021 to remove part of his large intestine.

At the end of the mass, Francis offered a long prayer for peace for all those suffering from war and for the Lord to console the victims of the “vile terrorist attack” in Moscow.

“May he convert the hearts of those who protect, organize and carry out these inhuman acts that offend God, who ordered us not to kill,” Francis said.

Without citing Moscow, Francis also asked the faithful not to forget the suffering of Ukraine. He noted that many Ukrainians now find themselves without electricity as a result of “intense attacks on infrastructure, which bring not only death and suffering, but also the risk of a humanitarian catastrophe of even greater dimensions.”

“Please do not forget martyred Ukraine,” he said. “And let’s also think about Gaza, which is suffering so much, and so many other places of war.”

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