Pope Francis bails on Lenten spiritual retreat amid ongoing cold

Pope Francis bails on Lenten spiritual retreat amid ongoing cold

Pope Francis coughs during the Angelus noon prayer he recited from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Sunday, March 1, 2020. A coughing Pope Francis told pilgrims gathered for the traditional Sunday blessing that he is canceling his participation at a week-long spiritual retreat in the Roman countryside because of a cold. It is the first time in his seven-year papacy that he has missed the spiritual exercises that he initiated early in his pontificate to mark the start of each Lenten season. (Credit: Andrew Medichini/AP.)

After cancelling all public engagements outside of his residence for the past three days, Pope Francis on Sunday appeared for his usual Sunday Angelus address but announced that he will not attend his week-long spiritual retreat due to his ongoing cold.

ROME – After cancelling all public engagements outside of his residence for the past three days, Pope Francis on Sunday appeared for his usual Sunday Angelus address but announced that he will not attend his week-long spiritual retreat due to his ongoing cold.

“I ask you to remember in prayer the spiritual retreat of the Roman Curia, which will begin this evening in Ariccia,” the pope said during the March 1 address, adding that “Unfortunately, my cold forces me not to participate this year.”

“I will follow the meditations from here,” he said, saying he will be united to the Curia in prayer, “and to all those who are living moments of prayer, doing spiritual exercises at home.”

Speaking with a slightly stuffy nose and a tired voice, Pope Francis coughed several times during the address, but was able to finish it, reflecting on the day’s Gospel reading, which recounts the temptation of Jesus in the desert during his 40 day fast.

At one point, Francis energetically departed from his prepared text, which he often does when he wants to drive a point home.

“Never dialogue with the devil! Never dialogue with temptation!” Francis said.

Spiritual exercises for the pope and curial officials, which is set in the Italian town of Ariccia, about an hour’s drive southeast of Rome, is an annual retreat he takes each year at the beginning of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday.

This year Francis, 83, could be seen sneezing and wiping his nose during his Ash Wednesday Mass, which fell on Feb. 26. The next day, he cancelled all public events due to what the Vatican called a “slight indisposition,” without offering further detail.

On Thursday, he cancelled a Mass an annual audience with priests in Rome, and on Friday he was absent from an audience with attendees of a Vatican conference on artificial intelligence, attended by several top representatives from major tech giants.

RELATED: Tech heads join Vatican in ‘clarion call for a new generation of ethics’

Despite his illness, the Vatican has assured that the pope has still celebrated Mass each morning in his residence at the Vatican’s Santa Marta guesthouse, and continued to work and hold private audiences there.

Francis who had part of a lung removed as a young seminarian, has never before cancelled this many audiences and events in his seven-year papacy. His illness comes amid heightened anxiety over the spread of the coronavirus in Italy, which has seen the worst outbreak of the virus outside of Asia.

The Lenten retreat for the Roman Curia is scheduled to last until March 6, after which members will return to Rome and resume their normal schedules.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen


Crux is dedicated to smart, wired and independent reporting on the Vatican and worldwide Catholic Church. That kind of reporting doesn’t come cheap, and we need your support. You can help Crux by giving a small amount monthly, or with a onetime gift. Please remember, Crux is a for-profit organization, so contributions are not tax-deductible.

Latest Stories