Pope cancels second day of engagements after falling ill

Andrea Vogt

Pope Francis has cancelled official audiences for a second day in succession after being taken ill.

The Vatican said the 83-year-old had celebrated morning Mass as usual and greeted participants at the end. He planned to keep his private meeting schedule as planned but decided to cancel official audiences.

It did not reveal what the pontiff is suffering from, but he was coughing and blowing his nose during Ash Wednesday Mass this week.

On Thursday, he cancelled a planned trip across the city to celebrate Mass with Rome priests.

His illness comes amid an outbreak of coronavirus which has infected 650 people in Italy and caused disruption across the north of the country. Rome has had three cases, but all three people have recovered.

On Thursday, Vatican officials refused to comment on whether Pope Francis has been tested for coronavirus, confirming only that he had missed a planned Mass for the start of Lent due to a slight illness.

 "This morning, the pontiff did not go to St. John Lateran basilica for the Penitential Mass with Roman clergy," Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement to The Telegraph. "Due to a light indisposition, he preferred to stay near [his Vatican residence] Santa Marta. Other duties are proceeding regularly."

Mr Bruni declined to respond to the question of whether or not the pontiff had been or would be tested for coronavirus.

Concern over the Pope's well-being circulated on social media after he was seen coughing and blowing his nose during Ash Wednesday celebrations, in which he greeted people without wearing a mask.  

On Sunday, he mingled with 40,000 faithful in Bari, hugging and kissing people in the crowd after expressing support for those infected by coronavirus, the health workers treating them and the civil authorities responding to the worsening outbreak.

Pope Francis at his general audience in St Peter's Square on Wednesday - ABACA

Pope Francis is missing a part of one lung. It was removed in his native Buenos Aires when he was in his early 20s after he suffered tuberculosis, according to biographer Austen Ivereigh.

He also suffers some leg pain due to sciatica, for which he undergoes regular physical therapy and which accounts for his occasional difficulty climbing steps.

But he is in generally good health and has been able to endure about four gruelling international trips each year since his election in 2013.