A day after leading the Ash Wednesday mass in the Vatican, Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church, skipped a scheduled engagement after feeling "sick", sparking fears of coronavirus infection among Catholics across the world. According to a statement from the Director of the Holy See Press Office, due to "slight indisposition", the Pope "preferred to remain in the vicinity of Santa Marta." This came just one day after he expressed solidarity with those infected with coronavirus infection and according to the latest reports, he has cancelled more meetings scheduled for Friday.
The 83-year-old pontiff did not attend the penitential liturgy — which is an important event at beginning of the Lenten season — at the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome. However, according to reports, the Supreme Pontiff, who is also the Bishop of the Diocese of Rome, offered prayers at the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta guesthouse and interacted with representatives of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, according to Catholic News Agency
In the Pope's absence, Angelo De Donatis, Cardinal Vicar of Rome, read an address prepared by the Pope for the Roman Clergy. Even before the announcement of cancelled engagement, social media was abuzz with concerns over the seer's health as he looked peaky with a handkerchief in his hand and sneezed a few times during the mass on Wednesday.
Postpones meetings on Friday
According to Vatican News, the Pope had decided to cancel a few more meetings on Friday. "The Holy Father celebrated Mass this morning and at the end, as usual, greeted the participants, but decided to postpone today's official audiences," said Matteo Bruni, Director of the Holy See Press office. He also told journalists that the meetings at Casa Santa Marta are being held as usual.
Led the Ash Wednesday Mass
On Wednesday, the Roman Pontiff led the procession and the Ash Wednesday mass, which marks the commencement of the lent, followed by his weekly public audience that is held at St. Peter's Square.
During the address, he expressed his closeness with people afflicted with the deadly coronavirus and the healthcare workers battling the spread of the pathogen and their efforts to revive the sick. "I wish, again, to express my closeness to those who are ill with coronavirus and to health-care workers who are caring for them," he said.
Tested for coronavirus?
Bruni had confirmed to The Telegraph that Pope Francis' indeed missed an engagement on Thursday. "This morning the pontiff did not go to St. John Lateran basilica for the Penitential Mass with Roman clergy," said Bruni.
However, he declined to answer a question about the Catholic leader being tested for COVID-19 that has seen a massive outbreak in the European nation with 655 confirmed cases and 17 deaths, according to The Telegraph.
Incidentally, the Pope shook hands, hugged and kissed believers who had gathered for the Holy Mass on Wednesday. He also led a mass in the city of Bari in southern Italy on Sunday and interacted with nearly 40,000 people who had congregated for his homily.
Cause for concern?
Since the Vatican City is in Rome, Italy where Europe's maximum cases of coronavirus were reported, all eyes are on the pontiff's health. While the Pope has always maintained good health for an octogenarian, it is also a cause of concern as the coronavirus infection has been found to affect people of advanced age the worst.
It is important to note that a portion of one of Pope Francis' lungs was removed at the age of 21 after suffering from life-threatening pneumonia. The fear of an infection affecting his lung's capacity in old age has been a cause of concern.
Ever since the news of the leader skipping an appointment was made public, twitterati have taken to the micro-blogging platform to talk about it. Here's what some said.