The Vatican moved on Friday to dismiss speculation that Pope Francis was anything more than “slightly unwell” as the 83-year-old Roman Catholic leader cancelled official audiences for the second day.
The Vatican has not specified what the pope is suffering from.
At his general audience on Wednesday he appeared to have a cold and spoke with a slightly hoarse voice, and he coughed during an afternoon Ash Wednesday service in a Rome church, his last appearance outside the Vatican.
Spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement on Friday morning the pope had celebrated early morning Mass, as is customary, in the chapel of the Santa Marta guest house where he lives and greeted those who attended.
“But he thought it was best to postpone today’s official audiences. The meetings scheduled to take place in Santa Marta will take place regularly,” Bruni said.
On Friday afternoon, Bruni said: “There is no evidence that would lead to diagnosing anything but a mild indisposition. Even this afternoon, the Holy Father’s meetings continued in Santa Marta.
Bruni added that the pope was still “slightly unwell”.
On Friday morning, Francis was to have received executives from Microsoft Corp, International Business Machines Corp, and other technology companies.
His speech to them from the Apostolic Palace was to have been streamed to participants of a conference in Rome on ethics in Artificial Intelligence (AI).
At the conference, Microsoft, IBM, the Vatican and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), signed a memo of understanding on AI.
The pope usually spends mornings making speeches to groups and meeting heads of state in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.
But unlike previous popes, he chose not to live in its spacious papal apartments and opted for simple quarters in Santa Marta, where he spends the rest of the day mostly working on Church matters.
On Thursday he cancelled a visit to a Rome basilica.
Francis is missing a part of one lung. It was removed when he was in his early 20s in his native Buenos Aires after he suffered from tuberculosis.
He also suffers some leg pain due to sciatica, for which he undergoes regular physical therapy and which explains his occasional difficulty climbing steps.
But he is otherwise in generally good health.
Some Lent Ash Wednesday services were cancelled or limited in areas of northern Italy hit by the spread of coronavirus.
More than 400 people have contracted the disease and 12 have died of it in Italy, in the worst contagion from the coronavirus so far recorded in Europe.
A number of people wore masks in St. Peter’s Square at his Wednesday general audience. (Reuters)