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Pope Francis to miss Way of the Cross event in cold Rome

VATICAN CITY: Recently hospitalized Pope Francis won’t go to the Colosseum for the traditional Good Friday Way of the Cross procession, but instead will watch it from his home at the Vatican due to unseasonably cold nighttime temperatures in Rome, the Holy See said.

Francis went ahead with an early evening prayer service at St. Peter’s Basilica to mark Good Friday, which recalls the suffering and death of Jesus by crucifixion. Wearing crimson-colored vestments, Francis, who has a chronic knee problem, used a wheelchair to reach the central area of the basilica and preside over the service.

The 86-year-old pope was discharged from a Rome hospital on April 1 after spending three days there receiving antibiotics intravenously for bronchitis. The Vatican said at the time that he would carry out the complete Holy Week schedule, including attending the Way of the Cross procession and Mass in St. Peter’s Square on Easter Sunday.

During the Good Friday basilica ceremony, Francis listened to a long homily by the Vatican’s official preacher. The pope at times sounded hoarse while reading aloud and when he gave his blessing at the end of the nearly two-hour long service. At one point, he stood up to kiss a figure of Jesus on a tall cross which was brought to him, then bowed his head in silent reflection.

On Holy Thursday, he presided over a nearly two-hour-long Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica and later went to a Rome juvenile prison where he washed and dried the feet of a dozen residents in a ritual symbolizing humility and recalling Jesus performing the same gesture for his 12 apostles.

While Rome has lately experienced spring-like weather during the day to Rome, temperatures have dipped into the high 30s Fahrenheit (about 4 degrees Celsius) after dark.

“Due to the intense cold of these days, Pope Francis will follow the Way of the Cross this evening from (the) Santa Marta hotel, uniting in prayer with those who will gather with the Diocese of Rome at the Colosseum,” the Vatican said in a brief statement.

The procession usually draws tens of thousands of pilgrims, tourists and Rome residents. Faithful take turns carrying a lightweight cross as meditations and prayers are recited. The pontiff usually watches the procession from a rise overlooking the Colosseum, and ends the event with remarks and a blessing.

Francis is also scheduled to preside at an Easter Vigil Mass on Saturday night in the basilica. On Sunday, he is due to be in St. Peter’s Square for a mid-morning Mass. He is expected to deliver a long speech that reviews wars and other conflicts in the world, known by its Latin name, “Urbi et Orbi.”

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