Breathless pope delegates reading as flu persists

Agence France-Presse
Breathless pope delegates reading as flu persists

VATICAN CITY, Holy See — Pope Francis presided over his weekly audience Wednesday despite the flu that caused him to abandon his attendance at UN climate talks in Dubai, but asked an aide to deliver his reading for him.

The Argentine pontiff, 86, looked tired and sounded breathless as he told the audience at the Vatican that "I'm still not well with this flu".

Francis, who had part of a lung removed when he was younger, on Tuesday cancelled his scheduled trip to the COP28 meeting from Friday to Sunday following advice from his doctors.

In an update on Wednesday evening, the Vatican said the pontiff's condition was stable.

"He does not have a fever, but the lung inflammation associated with breathing difficulties persists," it said, adding that he continues to receive antibiotics.

Francis spoke at the end of Wednesday's audience to call for an end to the wars in Gaza and Ukraine, wheezing as he did so.

But he looked cheered by a circus performance put on for him, complete with acrobats on roller skates.

Before the general audience, he told visiting members of the Celtic football club that he was feeling "better than yesterday", according to a Vatican transcript.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin later said the pope was "on his way to recovery" but did not want to risk this by travelling to Dubai.

Francis still hopes to be part of the climate discussions, the Vatican has said, but exactly how has yet to be announced.

Parolin said he himself would attend the first part of the UN talks, as he had all the COP meetings since Paris, while a Vatican team would remain the whole time.

The pope, who turns 87 next month, has suffered a series of health issues in recent years, from knee and hip pain to an inflamed colon and most recently, hernia surgery in June. 

He was also hospitalised for three nights in March with bronchitis, which was cured with antibiotics.

On Saturday, he cancelled events due to what the Vatican called "light flu symptoms". 

It said that a CT scan had ruled out "risks of pulmonary complications" and Francis was receiving antibiotics intravenously.

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