ROME – For the second time in less than a month, Pope Francis has canceled a series of public events due to another flare-up of sciatica, pulling out of a Mass today for the Sunday of the Word of God, his annual address to the diplomatic corps Monday and a vespers service for the Week of Prayer of Christian Unity later the same day.
Earlier this month, Francis withdrew from the traditional vespers service for New Year’s Eve and the New Year’s Day Mass for the Mother of God due to what the Vatican described at the time as a “painful bout of sciatica.”
Nonetheless, the Vatican also announced that Pope Francis will lead the usual Sunday Angelus address today, at noon Rome time, as normal. As has been the case throughout the Covid crisis, the pope will preside over the Angelus from inside the Apostolic Palace rather than a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square in order to avoid drawing a crowd.
The brief Vatican announcement said today’s Mass for the Sunday of the Word of God will be presided over by Italian Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, and Monday’s vespers service will be led by Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
Pope Francis revealed that he suffers from sciatica, a nerve condition that causes pain in the lower back and upper legs, in an 2013 news conference during his return from Brazil for a trip to celebrate World Youth Day, calling it “painful” and joking that he wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
Pope Francis in the past has on occasion canceled events due to illness. In 2014, he canceled a planned visit to Rome’s Gemelli hospital at the last minute due to a “sudden indisposition,” later described by the pope himself as a bad headache which caused him nausea.
In the spring of 2020, Francis also pulled out of the Vatican’s annual Lenten retreat due to what was described at the time as a bad cold.
The pope turned 84 of Dec. 17 and is generally perceived to be in good health. However, the last-minute withdrawal from three high-profile events – one of which, the Sunday of the Word of God, is an observance Francis himself decreed in 2019 – may raise questions about how much he’ll be able to appear in public for long events going forward, especially as he gets closer to a projected March 5-8 trip to Iraq.