Pope Francis on Friday chose not to read out a prepared speech, lamenting a “touch of bronchitis,” and instead delivered his remarks in printed form to a delegation of French religious communications experts gathered at the Vatican, adding a few impromptu words.
It is the second time in recent months that Francis, 87, showed signs of illness during one of his regular audiences. In November, he cited a slight cold and delivered written — not verbal — remarks to a delegation of European rabbis.
His health has worried watchers and the faithful in recent years, as he has been hospitalized in Rome on three different occasions, including once for bronchitis last March.
Video released by the Vatican on Friday showed Francis slowly walking into an ornate Vatican room with the help of a cane that he often uses and taking his seat.
“I’d like to read all the speech, but I have a problem,” Francis said with a smile, breathing heavily. “I have a touch of bronchitis and can’t talk well.”
As Vatican officers passed around printouts of the pope’s speech to the participants, he added some brief off-the-cuff remarks and led a prayer and a blessing.
Before meeting the French delegation on Friday, Francis spoke to a group of young professionals and to representatives of a Catholic institution promoting relations among the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches.
Despite the bronchitis, Francis, who is missing part of one lung and has had knee problems and sciatica in recent years, appeared in good spirits on Friday.
Yet, his health has become an increasing concern since he underwent major surgery in 2021 to remove about 13 inches of his large intestine after inflammation caused a narrowing of his colon. Last March, he spent a few days at the Policlinico A. Gemelli hospital in Rome to treat bronchitis. A few months later, in June, he underwent another surgery to remove intestinal blockages derived from previous operations. He spent nine days at the hospital.
“I apologize,” the pope told the French communications experts on Friday. “I will greet you one by one, because I don’t need to talk to greet you. I do it from the heart.”