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Pope cancels event over “slight illness” after shaking hands with ‘mask-wearing’ public in St. Peter’s Square

After breaking with his typical practice of waving and instead making a point to shake hands with revelers during his Ash Wednesday audience in St. Peter’s Square, media reports claim Pope Francis has fallen ill with a “slight illness”.

However, observers noted that he sounded hoarse and already appeared to have a slight cold during the Ash Wednesday service, quieting fears that he might have picked up the virus during the public audience, that was attended by thousands despite the outbreak in Italy sparking fears of public gatherings. The pope reportedly coughed during the service repeatedly.

In a sign of strength from the Vatican, His Holiness will complete his regular schedule on Thursday after cancelling an event at a Rome basilica.

“Because of a slight indisposition, he preferred to stay inside Santa Marta,” the Vatican said, referring to the Vatican guest house where the 83-year-old pontiff lives.

“All other commitments will go ahead regularly,” spokesman Matteo Bruni said.

Bloomberg reports that the Vatican released a picture of the pope and Cardinal Antonio Tagle, a Filipino who has recently taken a new post in the Vatican, meeting on Thursday morning with members of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, an international environmental group in a meeting near the pope’s guest house. Many of the members of crowd on Wednesday wore protective gear including facemasks, even as the pope didn’t.

The pope looked markedly better than the Iranian ministry who appeared feverish during a public press conference.

For those who aren’t closely familiar with the pope’s background, his biographer reminded the press that Francis is missing a part of one lung from a brush with tuberculosis in his native Buenos Aires. He was in his early 20s when it was removed. He also reportedly suffers from sciatica, for which he regularly undergoes physical therapy, which is why he often has trouble climbing stairs.