Pope Francis, who was discharged from a three-day hospital stay on Saturday, seemed on the mend on Sunday as he addressed tens of thousands of faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square for Palm Sunday Mass, allaying concerns about his health.
Francis, 86, arrived at the crowded square in an open-topped jeep, which drove along a corridor lined with thousands of faithful, many waving palm fronds over their heads, and up a ramp to the top of the basilica’s steps. He walked to the altar unassisted — because of knee problems and recurrent sciatica, he often uses a cane or a wheelchair.
Francis delivered the homily — in which he urged the world to care for those who are “abandoned” — the Angelus prayer and a blessing to the estimated 60,000 people in the crowd. And he thanked attendees for their “participation, and also for your prayers, which intensified during these past days.”
In off-the-cuff comments during his homily, the pope lamented the recent death, under the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square, of a homeless German man. God, he said, wanted people to be there for one another. “I, too, need Jesus to caress me, come close to me,” Francis said. “And for this reason, I go to find him in those who are abandoned and alone.”
The appearance by Francis on Sunday was the first in a week of major ceremonies before Easter.
“It’s a relief,” said Helen Garcia, a Roman Catholic visitor from Winnipeg, Canada, who called being in Rome for Holy Week and seeing the pope a “dream come true.”
On Wednesday after his weekly audience, Francis was admitted to a hospital, Policlinico A. Gemelli, where he underwent a battery of tests and was subsequently treated over three days for bronchitis, the Vatican said. Speaking briefly to reporters after being discharged on Saturday, Francis said he had felt “unwell” after the audience, without giving details.
On Sunday, Francis spoke in his homily about the need to care for the poor, migrants, prisoners, unborn children, the elderly, the sick, the disabled and all of those “experiencing extreme suffering and solitude,” whose numbers, he said, “are legion.”
He remained seated under a canopy while Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, the vice deacon of the College of Cardinals, celebrated at the altar.
Holy Week involves a heavy schedule of appointments for the pontiff, including a Holy Thursday liturgy in Rome’s juvenile prison of Casal del Marmo, a Good Friday procession at the Colosseum, an Easter Vigil the following evening and an Easter Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square.
At Sunday’s Mass, Anna Teresa Lauri, 78, said that while she had seen seven popes “and buried” six in her life, she was “confident” that Francis would be present this week and was “very happy” he had made it.
Mrs. Lauri said that she had often visited Rome with her husband, who has died, and that she felt it was important to be present on Sunday even though she is alone now.
“Had I stayed home, I would have spent a sad day,” she said, her voice breaking. Referring to Francis, she added that she thought, “‘But he got out, so I’ll go out too.’”