Pope Francis leads the Easter Mass

Pope Francis celebrated the Easter Mass with tens of thousands of Catholics in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican before his traditional blessing.

The 87-year-old arrived in a wheelchair to lead the 10:00 am (08:00 GMT) mass in cloudy and windy weather.

Easter marks the resurrection of Jesus Christ and is the culmination of Holy Week, a staple of the Catholic calendar followed by 1.3 billion people.

On Saturday, the pope led the Easter vigil at the Vatican in front of about 6,000 people from around the world. It came a day after the last-minute cancellation of a major Good Friday procession raised questions about his health. He delivered a 10-minute sermon in Italian, speaking without undue difficulty and denouncing the "walls of selfishness and indifference" in the world. At the end of the two-and-a-half-hour service, he showed no signs of fatigue as he took time to greet and bless some of the worshippers.

In a brief statement on Friday, the Vatican said that "in order to preserve his health before tomorrow's vigil and the Easter Mass, this evening Pope Francis will follow the Stations of the Cross to the Colosseum from the Santa Marta Residence," where he lives.

Health concerns

The last-minute decision has raised questions about how long Francis can continue to lead the Catholic Church. A Vatican source told AFP on Friday that there was "no particular concern" for his health and the decision to step down was "simply a precautionary measure". The Argentine Jesuit had also canceled his participation in the Via Crucis in 2023, but this followed a three-day hospital stay with bronchitis and was announced well in advance. Weeks later, he underwent hernia surgery. Until Friday, the pope attended the week's various engagements, but lately he has appeared tired and sometimes delegates the right to speak to others. Francis, who has never taken a vacation, made his last trip in September to the southern French city of Marseille. In December, he canceled a long-awaited attendance at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai. His next scheduled trip is to Venice on April 28. The Vatican has not yet confirmed a planned trip to Asia-Pacific countries for this summer.

Francis has previously left the door open to stepping down if he can no longer do the job. This would follow the example of his immediate predecessor, Benedict XVI, who in 2013 became the first pope since the Middle Ages to voluntarily step down. But in a memoir published this month, Francis wrote that "there is no sufficiently serious reason to make me think of resigning". /BGNES, AFP