ROME (AP) — Pope Francis, hospitalized recently with bronchitis, skipped the traditional Good Friday nighttime procession at the Colosseum because of chilly weather in Rome, staying instead at his home at the Vatican while thousands of faithful turned out for the torchlit event.
This Good Friday was the first time a pontiff was a no-show at the Colosseum Way of the Cross procession since 2005. Then, a weakened and ailing St. John Paul II, eight days before his death, silently watched the Way of the Cross ritual on TV at his apartment in the Apostolic Palace.
The Vatican had said Francis would preside at the ancient Roman arena at the procession that recalls Jesus’ suffering before his crucifixion and death on a cross. But just a few hours before the procession’s start, the Vatican, citing the “intense cold” that has made evenings unseasonably chilly in Rome these days, revealed that Francis would stay at his residence in a hotel in Vatican City and follow the event from there.
The 86-year-old pope was discharged from a Rome hospital on April 1 after being administered antibiotics intravenously for bronchitis.
Earlier on Friday, Francis presided at a two-hour long early evening prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica. Good Thursday, a day earlier, saw the pope attend a lengthy Mass in the basilica and in the afternoon go to a Rome juvenile prison where he washed and dried the feet of a dozen young residents in a symbolic gesture of humility that imitates what Jesus did for his 12 apostles ahead of his crucifixion.
The Colosseum appointment is a highlight of Holy Week ceremonies. At this year’s procession, in which a tall, slim, lightweight cross was carried by faithful, some 20,000 people turned out, holding lighted candles in the darkness outside the arena. When the procession ended, and a cardinal, instead of the pope, gave a blessing, a shout of “Long live the pope!” rose from the crowd.
Francis chose as the procession’s theme “voices of peace in a time of war.” Read aloud were accounts of suffering, of migrants and refugees from war, civil warfare or hunger, in Africa, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, South America and elsewhere.
The selection came from among the many accounts of suffering that Francis has heard from migrants and others who spoke with him during his overseas trips and other occasions.
Among the accounts were those of a Ukrainian youth who at first fled to Italy where his grandmother works to escape the war at home, but later, homesick, returned to Ukraine. Following that account was that of a young Russian who said his brother died, presumably after being sent to fight in Ukraine, which Russia invaded in February 2022.
Francis has repeatedly lamented the suffering of the Ukrainian people and issued many appeals for peace.
The pope did keep his appointment at an early evening Good Friday prayer service at St. Peter’s Basilica. Wearing crimson-colored vestments, Francis, who has a chronic knee problem, used a wheelchair to reach the central area of the basilica and preside over the service.
During the Good Friday basilica ceremony, the pope at times sounded hoarse while reading aloud and when he gave his blessing at the end of the nearly two-hour long service. At one point, he stood up to kiss a figure of Jesus on a tall cross which was brought to him, then bowed his head in silent reflection.
While Rome has lately experienced spring-like weather during the day to Rome, temperatures have dipped into the high 30s Fahrenheit (about 4 degrees Celsius) after dark.
Francis is also scheduled to preside at an Easter Vigil Mass on Saturday night in the basilica. On Sunday, he is due to be in St. Peter’s Square for a mid-morning Mass. He is expected to deliver a long speech that reviews wars and other conflicts in the world, known by its Latin name, “Urbi et Orbi.”