Pope says he is 'still not well' in first appearance after cancelling COP28 trip

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -Pope Francis sounded wheezy and limited his speaking at a public event on Wednesday, a day after he cancelled a trip to the COP28 climate summit in Dubai because of health issues.

"Dear brothers and sisters good morning and welcome," the 86-year-old pontiff said at his weekly audience, held indoors in the Vatican's Paul IV hall.

He then said an aide would read his main text in his place, "since I am still not well with this flu and (my) voice is not nice".

On Tuesday, the Vatican said Francis would no longer make a planned three-day trip to Dubai, starting Friday, for COP28 on doctor's orders.

"Although the Holy Father's general clinical condition has improved with regard to the flu and inflammation of the respiratory tract, doctors have asked the pope not to make the trip," a statement said.

He was greeted in the packed hall by applause and chants of "Viva il papa" ("Long live the pope").

Francis spoke again at the end of his audience, to call for the continuation of a truce in the Gaza Strip, the release of all hostages, and humanitarian aid access into the territory.

"We call for peace," he said, also mentioning Ukraine.

The pope, who is getting on-the-ground reports from Gaza's Catholic parish, expressed concern for the lack of water, bread, and the suffering of ordinary people.

"War is always a defeat, everybody loses (apart from) one group that profits a lot: arms manufacturers who make good money from the death of others," he said.

Francis, who has trouble walking due to a knee ailment and sometimes uses a wheelchair, arrived at his Wednesday audience walking, aided by a cane.

His audience also featured a brief show by circus artists, including a clown, acrobats and jugglers, who performed on the podium alongside Francis.

He thanked them for offering a "moment of joy."

(Reporting by Alvise Armellini, editing by Philip Pullella and Keith Weir)