Pope Francis is suffering from acute knee pain and won’t preside over this week’s Ash Wednesday celebrations after his doctor ordered him to rest. Despite his health issues, the pope has launched efforts to mediate an end to the war in Ukraine.
Pope Francis will not be presiding over the customary mass for the start of Lent at the Basilica of Saint Sabina on Rome’s Aventine Hill this year.
The pope’s knee ailment also forced him to cancel travel plans for the first time in his papacy. Francis was scheduled to celebrate mass Sunday in Florence for the closing of a meeting of bishops and mayors from the Mediterranean region.
But knee pain has not stopped the Pope from repeatedly voicing his concern about the developments in Ukraine.
On Friday, he visited the Russian ambassador to the Holy See, Alexander Avdeev, to express those concerns in person.
The Pope has called for Ash Wednesday this week to serve as a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Ukraine.
His worries were voiced again Sunday when he said his “heart is broken” and called for arms to fall silent.
Referring to those in search of refuge as brothers and sisters, the pope made an impassioned appeal for humanitarian corridors to help refugees leave Ukraine.
The Vatican has now said it is prepared to assist in any negotiation aimed at ending the war in the eastern European country. The Vatican's No. 2, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said in interviews published in Italian newspapers Monday that the Vatican is offering to facilitate dialogue with Russia. He said there is always space for negotiation.
Earlier, the head of the Italian Bishop’s Conference, Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, announced the pope would not travel after speaking to the Holy Father on the phone.
Bassetti said the pope had given his strong backing to the “Mediterranean, Frontier of Peace” meeting in Florence and had wanted to attend but the doctor recommended that he take a “period of greater rest” for his leg.
It remains unclear whether the pope’s current knee problem is linked to previous sciatica conditions that have forced him to cancel some of his public appearances in recent times and has also caused him to limp. Only last month, the 85-year-old pontiff complained of a pain in his leg, saying it was worse when he remained standing.
Pope Francis underwent colon surgery in July in what was considered his most serious health issue since he was elected head of the Catholic Church in March 2013. After spending 10 days in a hospital, he appeared to recover well and soon returned to his daily activities.