Pope overcomes health concerns to preside over blustery Easter Sunday Mass : NPR

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Pope Francis arrives as he celebrates Easter mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Sunday, March 31, 2024.

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Pope Francis arrives as he celebrates Easter mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Sunday, March 31, 2024.

Andrew Medichini/AP

ROME — Pope Francis overcame concerns about his health to preside over Easter Sunday Mass, leading some 30,000 people in a flower-decked St. Peter’s Square in one of the most important liturgies of the year.

Just hours after celebrating the 2½-hour nighttime Easter Vigil, the 87-year-old Francis appeared in good form at the start of the liturgy in the blustery piazza. Francis, who had part of one lung removed as a young man, has been battling respiratory problems all winter that the Vatican and he have said were bronchitis, the flu or a cold.

A view of St. Peter’s Square at The Vatican during the Easter Sunday mass celebrated by Pope Francis, Sunday, March 31, 2024.

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A view of St. Peter’s Square at The Vatican during the Easter Sunday mass celebrated by Pope Francis, Sunday, March 31, 2024.

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The Vatican said some 30,000 people attended the Mass, with more packing the Via della Conciliazione boulevard leading to the piazza. At the start of the service, a gust of wind knocked over a large religious icon on the altar just a few feet from the pope; ushers quickly righted it.

Easter Mass is one of the most important dates on the liturgical calendar, celebrating what the faithful believe was Jesus’ resurrection after his crucifixion. The Mass precedes the pope’s “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) blessing, a lengthy speech that traditionally rounds up all the threats facing humanity.

Pope Francis celebrates Easter mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Sunday, March 31, 2024.

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Pope Francis celebrates Easter mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Sunday, March 31, 2024.

Andrew Medichini/AP

For the past few weeks, Francis has generally avoided delivering long speeches to avoid the strain on his breathing. He ditched his Palm Sunday homily last week and decided at the last minute to stay home from the Good Friday procession at the Colosseum.

The Vatican said in a brief explanation that the decision was made to “conserve his health.”

Vatican Swiss Guards take position in St. Peter’s Square at The Vatican where Pope Francis will celebrate the Easter Sunday mass, Sunday, March 31, 2024.

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Vatican Swiss Guards take position in St. Peter’s Square at The Vatican where Pope Francis will celebrate the Easter Sunday mass, Sunday, March 31, 2024.

Andrew Medichini/AP

The decision appeared to have paid off, as Francis was able to recite the prayers of the lengthy Saturday night Easter Vigil service, including administering the sacraments of baptism and First Communion to eight new Catholics, and preside over Easter Sunday Mass.

After a busy Holy Week, Francis should have some time to recover as there are no major foreign trips scheduled for several months.

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