Pope Francis attended but did not preside at an Easter vigil service in St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturday night, presumably because of recurring leg pain that has forced him to curtail some activities.
Italian Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re replaced the pope as the main celebrant at the service, which involved a procession in near-total darkness up the central nave of Christendom’s largest church.
The pope sat at the front of the basilica in a large white chair on the side and appeared to be alert. The Vatican said he read the homily for the Mass.
Presiding at the Mass, which was attended by 5,500 people, would have required long periods of standing during the chanting and gospel readings as well as genuflecting at the altar.
The 85-year-old pope suffers from sciatica, which causes pain in one leg and results in a pronounced limp. Recently Francis also has had a flare up of pain in his right knee.
The condition appears to come and go.
A program issued by the Vatican on Friday listed the pope as chief celebrant at the Saturday evening service. The Vatican gave no official reason for the change.
On Friday afternoon, the pope was well enough to walk the entire aisle both at the start and the end of a Good Friday service in the basilica but he did not prostrate himself on the floor as he normally does during that service.
He had to curtail some of his movements during a trip to Malta at the start of April and also had to ask a cardinal to stand in for him at a Mass in December.
The Holy Week activities, which culminate Sunday, mark the first time since 2019 that the public has been allowed to attend, following two years of COVID-19 restrictions.