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Pope Francis cancels Ash Wednesday Mass, trip to Florence due to knee pain

Pope Francis cancels Ash Wednesday Mass, trip to Florence due to knee pain

Pope Francis celebrates Mass on Ash Wednesday in St. Peter’s Basilica Feb. 17, 2021. VATICAN MEDIA

By Hannah Brockhaus

Catholic News Agency

February 26, 2022

VATICAN— The Vatican announced Friday that Pope Francis will no longer attend an international meeting of bishops and mayors in Florence, Italy, on Sunday due to doctor-ordered rest for knee pain.

The pope will also not be able to participate in the customary procession on Rome’s Aventine Hill and Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina for Ash Wednesday on March 2, according to the Vatican.

“Due to acute gonalgia, for which his doctor has prescribed a period of more rest for his leg, Pope Francis will not be able to travel to Florence on Sunday, Feb. 27, or preside over Ash Wednesday celebrations on March 2,” the Holy See press office said in a short statement on Feb. 25.

The statement did not address whether the pope would preside over the Sunday Angelus at the Vatican or at his Wednesday general audience.

The Vatican also announced the program of Pope Francis’ two-day visit to Malta on Friday. The trip is scheduled for April 2-3.

Pope Francis has canceled public appearances in the past for what the Vatican said was a flare-up of sciatic pain. In July 2021, Francis also spent 10 days in a Rome hospital after undergoing surgery on his colon for diverticulitis.

The pope was scheduled to spend the morning of Feb. 27 in Florence to speak at a meeting of bishops and mayors of the Mediterranean region.

The visit was to include an encounter with refugee families and Mass at the Basilica of Santa Croce.

The leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church had also planned to attend the Florence meeting, but announced on Feb. 24 that he had decided to stay in his home country due to the full-scale Russian invasion.

In a letter to the president of the Italian bishops’ conference, Shevchuk stressed that “the current situation requires my presence in the country.”

While Ukrainians desire peace, Shevchuk expressed fears that “the whole of Ukraine risks becoming a death camp.”

The Vatican had also recently announced that Pope Francis would again go to Rome’s Aventine Hill for the celebration of Ash Wednesday Mass on March 2.

The customary papal celebration, which includes a procession from St. Anselm Church to the nearby Basilica of Santa Sabina, did not take place last year.

In 2021, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Pope Francis celebrated Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The year prior, Ash Wednesday fell on Feb. 26, at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy. Pope Francis had visible signs of a cold at the Ash Wednesday Mass where he presided. From Feb. 27 onward, he canceled his larger audiences in favor of working from the Casa Santa Marta guesthouse, where he lives.

The Vatican said at the time that Francis had “a slight indisposition.”

Pope Francis was also forced to cancel several public appearances at the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021 due to recurrent nerve pain from sciatica.

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