Pope, back from illness, presides over Vigil mass

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Vatican City: Tens of thousands of Catholics will gather in Saint Peter's Square on Sunday to hear Pope Francis give the Easter mass and the traditional blessing.

Francis, 86, has returned to his papal duties after a recent stay in hospital following a bout of bronchitis.

On Saturday evening, he presided over the Vigil mass in Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, a two-and-a-half-hour ceremony performed before 8,000 people.

On Friday evening however, he stayed away from the Good Friday "Way of the Cross" service as a precautionary measure, because of the intense cold, the Vatican explained. It was the first time he had missed the ceremony during his papacy, which began in 2013.

On Sunday, the pope will preside over the mass from 10:00 am (0800 GMT), pronouncing the "Urbi et Orbi" (To the City and the World) blessing at midday. Traditionally, the pope uses the occasion to review world events.

As in 2022, his message is likely to touch on the war in Ukraine but also the renewed violence in the Middle East and the recent deaths of migrants attempting to make the perilous Mediterranean crossing from Africa to Europe.

Francis was discharged from a Rome hospital on April 1 after a three-night stay for a bronchial infection. The pontiff has suffered increasing health issues in recent years, and it was his second stay in hospital since 2021.

Pope Francis has participated in various events since his hospital release, including washing the feet of 12 young prisoners on Holy Thursday.

But his health has become increasingly frail, and he now uses a wheelchair because of the pain in his knees.

The Easter holy week, which commemorates the death and the resurrection of Christ, is the high point of the Catholic calendar.


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