27 February 2020, The Tablet

Pope skips Mass due to cold

by Madoc Cairns , Junno Arocho Esteves, CNS

Pope skips Mass due to cold

Pope Francis, suffering a slight cold, celebrates Ash Wednesday in the Basilica of Santa Sabina on the Aventino.
Mondadori Portfolio/SIPA USA/PA Images

Pope Francis has cancelled a planned Mass with Roman clergy due to suffering a cold, as the coronavirus outbreak escalates in Italy and worldwide.

The Pope was scheduled to meet with priests of the diocese of Rome at the Basilica of St John Lateran this Thursday morning, 27 February, but has withdrawn his attendance due to “feeling slightly unwell”.

According to the Vatican spokesman who announced this, shortly before the event was due to begin, the Pope has a cold but would be attending his other scheduled events for the day as normal.

Although Rome has yet to see a prolonged outbreak of coronavirus, the Pope’s cancellation has raised concerns given the ongoing outbreak in Italy. In Italy, 22 people have died and more than 470 cases have been confirmed nationwide. After China and South Korea, Italy now has the third most serious coronavirus outbreak worldwide.

In response to this, the dioceses of Venice, Padua and Milan have all suspended public masses until the 1st of March; the pre-lenten celebration of Carnevale in Venice was cancelled on Monday 24. The Archdiocese of Turin has cancelled all public events and activities other than Mass and Bishops in the northern regions of Emilia-Romagna and Liguria have called for public masses to be called off in compliance with local ordinances banning public gatherings.

The Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology announced on Wednesday that it was closing the historic catacombs found in several Roman cities due to the coronavirus outbreak. Sites of pilgrimage for many Christians, the catacomb’s high humidity and limited ventilation made them high-risk sites for infection.

Unlike the bishops of some northern areas such as Bologna, the Pope did not call off his Ash Wednesday mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina, and assured victims of the coronavirus of his prayers and support at that day’s audience.

About 81,000 people around the globe have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since it first emerged in Wuhan province, China. It has been estimated that 3,000 people have died from the disease so far, with the majority of deaths and infections occurring in China

In a statement, Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office, said that due to "a slight indisposition", the pope preferred to remain close to the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where he lives.

However, "other commitments will proceed normally", Bruni said. According to the Vatican, the pope met with members of the Global Catholic Climate Movement in one of the meeting rooms of the Paul VI audience hall.

During his weekly general audience, the pope reduced his contact with people in St Peter's Square, shaking hands with only a few people before beginning his talk. The pope circled the square in the popemobile, waving and blessing people from afar, and the driver and the pope's security detail did not stop to pick up any children as is customary.

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