“Due to a slight indisposition,” Pope Francis “preferred to remain in the rooms close to Santa Marta,” according to Matteo Bruni, the Holy See press office director.
The pope was seen coughing and blowing his nose during his general audience and Ash Wednesday Mass Feb. 26.
He continued Feb. 27-29 to offer his early morning Masses in the Santa Marta chapel and to meet with people individually or in small groups, but chose to cancel scheduled audiences with Rome’s priests, participants in a Vatican-sponsored conference on artificial intelligence, and the Legionaries of Christ.
On Sunday, March 1 the pope led the weekly Angelus from a window of the apostolic palace overlooking St. Peter’s Square. During the address and prayer he paused a few times to cough.
At the end of the prayer, he announced he would not be going on the March 1-6 Lenten retreat he has attended every year with members of the Roman Curia.
“Unfortunately, a cold forces me not to participate this year: I will follow the meditations from here,” he told pilgrims.
Since 2014, the five-day spiritual exercises have taken place at a retreat center in the town of Ariccia, southeast of Rome. They were previously held at the Vatican.
With no appointments scheduled this week because of the retreat, Pope Francis will have more time to rest.
Pope Francis, who is 83 years old, is generally healthy, though he suffers from sciatica and had eye surgery for cataracts last year. When he was young, he had a portion of one lung removed because of an infection.
The Vatican has implemented special health measures in response to the coronavirus outbreak in Italy. Hand sanitizer dispensers have been installed in Vatican City offices, and there is a nurse and a doctor on call at a Vatican clinic to give immediate assistance, Bruni told Vatican News.
As of 6:00 pm March 2, Italian authorities reported 1,835 cases of coronavirus and 52 deaths. One hundred and forty-nine people have recovered.
Most of the cases are in the Lombardy region in the north, followed by the regions of Emilia-Romagna and Veneto. Of these cases, many are mild and being treated at home.
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Rome’s region of Lazio has seen 7 confirmed cases. The first three cases in Rome have recovered.
According to the World Health Organization, Italy has the third highest number of cases of novel coronavirus after China and South Korea.
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, several U.S. Catholic universities and colleges decided to end their study abroad programs in Italy for the semester and send students home.
Ed. note: This story was updated following a statement issued by the Holy See Press Office March 3.