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The Pope's last minute withdrawal from Easter event raises concerns over his health

The Pope's last minute withdrawal from Easter event raises concerns over his health

Pope Francis pulled out of a planned appearance at the Good Friday procession at Rome's Colosseum at the last minute to “preserve his health”, according to the Vatican.

The 87-year-old is still expected at an Easter Vigil service on Saturday evening and an Easter Mass and the twice-annual "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and world) message and blessing on Sunday morning.

But his last minute withdrawal will renew concerns about his ailing health - Francis uses a cane or a wheelchair to move around due to a knee ailment, and suffers from repeated bouts of bronchitis and influenza.

The Vatican announced the pope's absence from the "Via Crucis" (Way of the Cross) procession just as it was about to start, saying in a statement he would follow it remotely from his Vatican residence.

Pope Francis (REUTERS)
Pope Francis (REUTERS)

Francis, who had looked fitter this week after weeks in which he struggled to speak in public and cancelled some meetings, also missed the procession last year, after recovering from a four-day hospital stay for bronchitis.

On Thursday Francis performed the foot-washing ritual, which recalls Jesus' gesture of humility to his apostles at the Last Supper, in a women's prison in Rome.

Earlier on Friday, he joined cardinals and bishops for the Passion of the Lord service in St Peter's Basilica, which featured chants in Latin recounting events from Jesus' arrest to his burial.

In previous years, Francis would start the service prostrating himself on the floor of the basilica, but his frail state no longer allows him to do so. Instead, he arrived in a wheelchair and prayed silently in front of the main altar.