The pope’s alleged “slight indisposition” has prompted him to cancel a planned penitential Mass in Rome, Italy, at St. John Lateran, which was to mark the start of Lent. Although the Vatican has not revealed the specific nature of the 82-year-old pontiff’s illness, officials claim he will resume his standard schedule on Thursday.
As reported by Vatican News, Francis attended a general audience in St. Peter’s Square on Ash Wednesday and expressed solidarity for people suffering from the coronavirus, as well as those caring for and assisting them.
“I wish, again, to express my closeness to those who are ill with coronavirus and to health-care workers who are caring for them.”
During the general audience, the pope shook hands with attendees and greeted bishops at its conclusion. But contrary to tradition, Francis appeared to refrain from letting attendees embrace him or kiss his ring.
Although The New York Post reported that Francis has not met with anyone with the coronavirus, his sickness comes amid an outbreak of the virus in Italy. As of now, over 400 people have been infected in the European country, with most cases observed in the northern region.
#PopeFrancis on #AshWednesday says: #Lent should be a time to find God in the "desert," that is, dismantle & strip down the noisy, distracting, petty environment around us. Put away devices, stop gossiping, end the insults. Create a holy place in one's heart of prayer & kindness. pic.twitter.com/tHosdzLCzW
— Catholic News Service (@CatholicNewsSvc) February 26, 2020
As reported by BBC, fashion and finance hub Lombardy and Veneto, known for its gothic architecture, have been hit the hardest. The outbreak has reportedly led to the closing of schools, universities, and cinemas, and 11 towns — totaling 55,000 people — have been quarantined.
Per The Inquisitr, the outbreak has pushed discussions about whether Inter Milan’s UEFA Europa League match should proceed on Thursday. The talks come after the team’s weekend Serie A match against Sampdoria was canceled.
“There are still many unknowns about this virus and in particular its origin and how it spreads,” said European Union Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides.
Elsewhere in Europe, the coronavirus has continued to spread. BBC reports that in the past two days alone, the first cases have been reported in Greece, Croatia, Austria, Switzerland, Norway, Georgia, and North Macedonia. Many of these cases reportedly stemmed from people who visited Italy.
Approximately 80,000 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus across the world. Recent data shows the coronavirus spreading from China to many other parts of the world, including Algeria, Brazil, Pakistan, and the Middle East.
As of now, South Korea has the largest cluster of infections outside of China, with over 1,200 infections to date.