By Courtney Mares
Pope Francis postponed his official audiences for Friday, but maintained his private meeting schedule at his residence in Vatican City. The decision comes after the pope was reported to have a “slight” illness by a Vatican spokesman.
Holy See Press Office Director Matteo Bruni told journalists Feb. 28 that Pope Francis offered Mass in Santa Marta and “greeted participants at the end, as usual,” before deciding to cancel his audiences and remain in his residence.
It is the second day that the pope has canceled appearances. Pope Francis did not attend a scheduled liturgy for the priests of the Diocese of Rome in the Basilica of St. John Lateran on Thursday after feeling unwell.
“Due to a slight indisposition,” Pope Francis “preferred to remain in the rooms close to Santa Marta,” Bruni said Feb. 27.
Pope Francis, who is 83 years old, is generally healthy, though he suffers from sciatica and had eye surgery for cataracts last year. When he was young he had a portion of one lung removed because of an infection.
The pope was scheduled to meet Feb. 28 with executives from technology companies, including Microsoft and IBM, who are in Rome for a meeting organized by the Pontifical Academy of Life on ethics in artificial intelligence.
While the Vatican has postponed some events and conferences due to the coronavirus, the pontifical academy’s ethics of AI meetings took place as planned. Pope Francis’ prepared remarks to the conference were read by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life.
Italian authorities have reported 650 cases of the coronavirus in the country, with 17 deaths and 45 recoveries as of Feb. 28. Nearly all of the reported cases are in northern Italy. In response to the outbreak, Italian officials have also imposed quarantine restrictions on several towns in the Lombardy and Veneto regions, where most of the infections have occurred.
In Rome’s region of Lazio there have been just three confirmed cases: an Italian and two Chinese tourists, all of whom have recovered.
The Vatican has implemented special health measures in response to the coronavirus outbreak in Italy. Hand sanitizer dispensers have been installed in Vatican City offices, and there is a nurse and a doctor on call at a Vatican clinic to give immediate assistance, Holy See Press Office Director Matteo Bruni told Vatican News.
As of Feb. 28, Pope Francis is still scheduled to give his Sunday Angelus address on March 1 before leaving for his Lenten retreat March 1-6.