30 March 2024

Pope presides over Saturday Easter Vigil after missing Good Friday procession

30 March 2024

Pope Francis has presided over the Saturday Easter Vigil service at the Vatican, delivering a 10-minute homily and baptising eight people, a day after suddenly skipping the Good Friday procession at the Colosseum as a health precaution.

Francis entered the darkened, silent St Peter’s Basilica in his wheelchair, took his place in a chair and offered an opening prayer.

Sounding somewhat congested and out of breath, he blessed an elaborately decorated Easter candle, the flame of which was then shared with other candles until the whole basilica twinkled.

Over an hour later, Francis delivered a 10-minute homily in a strong voice, clearing his throat occasionally.

The evening service, one of the most solemn and important moments in the Catholic liturgical calendar, commemorates the resurrection of Jesus and includes the sacrament of baptism for eight adult converts.

The Vatican had said Francis skipped the Good Friday procession to ensure his participation in both the vigil service on Saturday night, which usually lasts about two hours, and Easter Sunday Mass a few hours later.

The 87-year-old, who had part of one lung removed as a young man, has been battling respiratory problems all winter that have made it difficult for him to speak at length. He and the Vatican have said he has had bronchitis, a cold or the flu.

He has cancelled some audiences and often asked an aide to read aloud some of his speeches.

The alarm was raised when he ditched his Palm Sunday homily altogether last week at the last minute and then decided suddenly on Friday to stay home rather than preside over the Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum re-enacting Christ’s crucifixion.

The Vatican said in a brief explanation that the decision was made to “conserve his health”.

While Francis also skipped the chilly Good Friday procession last year because he was recovering from bronchitis, his sudden absence from the event this year underscored how his frail health was impacting even major liturgical events at the Vatican.

Francis cancelled a trip to Dubai late last year, with just days to go, on doctor’s orders.

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