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Pope to lead Easter celebrations despite health concerns

Pope Francis is expected to lead Easter services at the Vatican today and tomorrow after his last-minute cancelation of a major Good Friday procession revived questions about his health.

The 87-year-old pontiff was still scheduled to preside over a 6.30pm Easter vigil at Saint Peter’s basilica in front of thousands of pilgrims from around the world, the Vatican has confirmed.

On Easter Sunday, the pontiff normally holds a mass and his “Urbi et Orbi” blessing that is transmitted around the globe.

In a brief statement yesterday, the Vatican said that “to preserve his health ahead of tomorrow’s vigil and the Easter Sunday mass, Pope Francis will this evening follow the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum from the Santa Marta Residence,” where he lives.

The sudden decision – the Pope’s wheelchair was already in place for the procession – and the lack of detail in the statement has added to doubts about the health of the man born as Jorge Bergoglio, and how long he can continue to lead the Church and its 1.3 billion followers.

“The Via Crucis of a fragile Pope”, was the headline in the La Stampa newspaper today, while Il Messaggero spoke of a “renunciation of Francis.”

A Vatican source yesterday told AFP there was “no particular concern” about his health, and the decision to pull out was “simply a measure of caution”.

The Argentinian Jesuit also cancelled his participation in the “Via Crucis” in 2023, but that followed a three-day stay in hospital for bronchitis and was announced well ahead of time. Weeks later, he underwent a hernia operation.

Up until yesterday, the Pope had attended his various Holy Week engagements, but he has recently appeared tired and has sometimes delegated speaking roles to colleagues.

In December, he cancelled a much-expected attendance at the COP28 summit in Dubai.

Francis has previously left the door open to stepping down if he can no longer do the job, as did his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who in 2013 became the first pope since the Middle Ages to voluntarily step aside.

But Francis said in a memoir published this month that he did “not have any cause serious enough to make me think of resigning”.

Resignation is a “distant possibility” that would be justified only in the event of “a serious physical impediment”, he said.

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