Pope Appears in Better Health Ahead of Busy Easter Schedule

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis, whose frail health has been a growing source of concern in recent weeks, appeared in better shape on Wednesday ahead of a busy Easter week schedule. 

The 87-year-old pontiff read out in full pre-prepared texts for his weekly audience, rather than delegating an aide to read most of them, as he had done in the previous four weeks, and made a few off-the-cuff remarks. 

Francis made fresh appeals for peace in Ukraine and the Middle East, and publicly greeted two men in the audience, one Israeli and one Palestinian, who have both lost daughters in the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

He described them as two friends “who love one another and who have experienced the same crucifixion.” 

Vatican media named them as Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan of the Parents Circle Families Forum (PCFF), an Israeli-Palestinian group that brings together relatives of victims of the conflict. 

Aramin’s daughter Abir, 10, was fatally wounded by an Israeli border police officer in 2007, while Elhanan’s daughter Smadar was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber in 1997, just before she turned 14. 

The pope, who is in daily phone contact with a Catholic parish in Gaza, also wrote an open letter to Catholics in the Middle East, expressing sympathy for “your sufferings and your struggles, particularly in the course of these recent months.” 

Prison ritual 

The pope has been suffering on and off from what has been described as a cold, bronchitis and influenza for more than a month, leading him to limit public speaking, cancel some meetings and visit a hospital for medical checks. 

Concerns about his condition were renewed three days ago, when he skipped his homily at a Palm Sunday service in St. Peter’s Square. 

The pontiff is due to preside over a number of religious services and ceremonies leading up to Easter on Sunday, including a washing of the feet ritual in a women’s prison in Rome on Thursday. 

Easter is the most important festival in the Christian calendar, celebrating the day on which Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead. 

Francis, who also has restricted mobility due to a knee problem, arrived in the Paul VI audience hall on Wednesday walking with a cane, rather than in a wheelchair that he sometimes uses. 

He sounded in good spirits as he told the faithful that the event had been moved indoors at the last minute, forcing crowds to relocate from St. Peter’s Square, due to rainy weather. 

“It’s true that you’re going to be a bit crammed, but at least we won’t be wet,” he said.

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