Pope Francis skips Good Friday procession to protect health, Vatican says

Pope Francis did not take part in the Good Friday Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum in Rome to "conserve his health" ahead of Easter, the Vatican has said.

The Pope, 87, was expected to preside over the event but it was announced before it started that he was following the procession from his home at the Vatican.

The procession re-enacts Christ's Passion and crucifixion, and the Pope composed the meditations that are read aloud at each station.

"To conserve his health in view of the vigil tomorrow and Mass on Easter Sunday, Pope Francis will follow the Via Crucis at the Colosseum this evening from the Casa Santa Marta," a statement from the Vatican press office said.

The Pope had appeared in good form earlier in the day for a Good Friday liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica.

He missed last year's procession due to "extremely cold weather" in Rome.

The Pope, who had part of one lung removed as a young man, has been battling what he and the Vatican have described as a case of the flu, bronchitis or a cold for the duration of the winter.

For the last few weeks, he has occasionally asked an aide to read aloud his speeches, and skipped his Palm Sunday homily - raising concerns about his health.

As well as his respiratory problems, Pope Francis had a chunk of his large intestine removed in 2021 and was hospitalised twice last year, including once to remove intestinal scar tissue from previous surgeries to address diverticulosis, or bulges in his intestinal wall.

The decision to not attend the Good Friday procession appeared to be very last-minute: Pope Francis' chair was in place on the platform where he was to preside over the rite.

But five minutes before the official start of the procession, the Vatican press office announced on Telegram he would not be taking part and the chair was quickly taken away.

On Saturday, he is due to preside over a lengthy evening Easter Vigil in St. Peter's, one of the most solemn events in the liturgical calendar.

He is also due to preside over Easter Sunday Mass and deliver his Urbi et Orbi - to the city and the world - speech rounding up global crises and threats to humanity.