'Raspy-voiced' Pope skips key part of Palm Sunday Mass amid concern over increasingly frail health

24 March 2024, 20:34 | Updated: 24 March 2024, 20:39

'Raspy-voiced' Pope skips key part of Palm Sunday Mass amid concern over increasingly frail health
'Raspy-voiced' Pope skips key part of Palm Sunday Mass amid concern over increasingly frail health. Picture: Alamy

By Christian Oliver

Pope Francis has skipped a key part of the Palm Sunday Mass in the Vatican amid ongoing concerns about his increasingly frail health.

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Pope Francis, who was described as speaking with a "raspy voice", decided at the last minute to skip his homily during the outdoor service in St Peter's Square on Sunday.

The 87-year-old pontiff, whose increasingly frail health is set to be tested amid a busy Holy Week schedule, reportedly skipped the sermon because he wanted to avoid a strenuous speech.

Francis - affected by bad knees and persistent respiratory problems - also did not participate in the procession of cardinals around the obelisk in the piazza at the start of the Mass.

Instead the pontiff blessed the palm fronds and olive branches that had been carried by others from the altar.

Pope Francis leads the Palm Sunday mass in St. Peter Square in Vatican City, March 24
Pope Francis leads the Palm Sunday mass in St. Peter Square in Vatican City, March 24. Picture: Alamy
Pope Francis during the Palm Sunday mass at Saint Peter's Square
Pope Francis during the Palm Sunday mass at Saint Peter's Square. Picture: Alamy

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Francis had been expected to deliver a homily halfway through the service and had pronounced the prayers during the Mass.

After several seconds of silence, announcers said Francis had decided not to deliver the homily itself.

Vatican officials estimated some 25,000 people attended the Mass, held under a sunny, breezy spring sky.

Palm Sunday kicks off a busy week for Francis leading up to Easter Sunday when the faithful commemorate the resurrection of Christ.

On Thursday, Francis is due to travel to a Rome women's prison for the traditional washing of the feet ritual.

Pope Francis celebrates the Palm Sunday Mass in St Peter's Square
Pope Francis celebrates the Palm Sunday Mass in St Peter's Square. Picture: Alamy
Pope Francis during the Palm Sunday Mass at Saint Peter's Square
Pope Francis during the Palm Sunday Mass at Saint Peter's Square. Picture: Alamy

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On Friday he is scheduled to preside over the night-time Way of the Cross procession at Rome's Colosseum re-enacting Christ's crucifixion.

The following day marks the Easter Vigil, during which the pontiff presides over a solemn night-time service in the basilica, followed by Easter Sunday Mass in St Peter's Square and his noontime blessing from the loggia above.

Off and on this winter, Francis has been battling what he and the Vatican have described as a case of the flu, bronchitis or a cold.

For the last several weeks he has occasionally asked an aide to read aloud his speeches and catechism lessons to spare him the effort.

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