Pope cancels visit with Rome priests for 'slight' illness

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis is sick and skipped a planned Mass with Rome clergy across town on Thursday, officials said.

The Vatican said the 83-year-old pontiff had a “slight indisposition" and would proceed with the rest of his planned work on Thursday. But Francis “preferred to stay near Santa Marta," the Vatican hotel where he lives.

There was no word from the Vatican about the nature of his illness, but the pope was seen coughing and blowing his nose during the Ash Wednesday Mass. It comes amid an outbreak of the coronavirus in Italy that has sickened more than 400 people, almost all of them in the north. Rome had three cases, but all three were cured.

Francis had been scheduled to go to the St. John Lateran basilica across town to meet with Rome clergy and celebrate a penitential Mass at the start of Lent. Francis is bishop of Rome, but delegates the day-to-day running of the archdiocese to a vicar.

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Pope during Ash Wednesday
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Pope during Ash Wednesday
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - FEBRUARY 26: Pope Francis leads the Ash Wednesday mass which opens Lent, the forty-day period of abstinence and deprivation for Christians before Holy Week and Easter, on February 26, 2020 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Vatican Pool - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - FEBRUARY 26: Pope Francis leads the Ash Wednesday mass which opens Lent, the forty-day period of abstinence and deprivation for Christians before Holy Week and Easter, on February 26, 2020 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Vatican Pool - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - FEBRUARY 26: Pope Francis leads the Ash Wednesday mass which opens Lent, the forty-day period of abstinence and deprivation for Christians before Holy Week and Easter, on February 26, 2020 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Vatican Pool - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - FEBRUARY 26: Pope Francis leads the Ash Wednesday mass which opens Lent, the forty-day period of abstinence and deprivation for Christians before Holy Week and Easter, on February 26, 2020 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Vatican Pool - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - FEBRUARY 26: Pope Francis leads the Ash Wednesday mass which opens Lent, the forty-day period of abstinence and deprivation for Christians before Holy Week and Easter, on February 26, 2020 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Vatican Pool - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - FEBRUARY 26: Pope Francis leads the Ash Wednesday mass which opens Lent, the forty-day period of abstinence and deprivation for Christians before Holy Week and Easter, on February 26, 2020 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Vatican Pool - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - FEBRUARY 26: Pope Francis leads the Ash Wednesday mass which opens Lent, the forty-day period of abstinence and deprivation for Christians before Holy Week and Easter, on February 26, 2020 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Vatican Pool - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - FEBRUARY 26: Pope Francis leads the Ash Wednesday mass which opens Lent, the forty-day period of abstinence and deprivation for Christians before Holy Week and Easter, on February 26, 2020 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Vatican Pool - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - FEBRUARY 26: Pope Francis celebrates Ash Wednesday Service at Santa Sabina Basilica, on February 26, 2020 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Vatican Pool/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - FEBRUARY 26: Pope Francis arrive at the Santa Sabina Basilica for the Ash Wednesday celebration, on February 26, 2020 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Vatican Pool/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - FEBRUARY 26: Pope Francis celebrates Ash Wednesday Service at Santa Sabina Basilica, on February 26, 2020 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Vatican Pool/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - FEBRUARY 26: Pope Francis celebrates Ash Wednesday Service at Santa Sabina Basilica, on February 26, 2020 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Vatican Pool/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - FEBRUARY 26: Pope Francis celebrates Ash Wednesday Service at Santa Sabina Basilica, on February 26, 2020 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Vatican Pool/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - FEBRUARY 26: Pope Francis celebrates Ash Wednesday Service at Santa Sabina Basilica, on February 26, 2020 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Vatican Pool/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - FEBRUARY 26: Pope Francis celebrates Ash Wednesday Service at Santa Sabina Basilica, on February 26, 2020 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Vatican Pool/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - FEBRUARY 26: Pope Francis celebrates Ash Wednesday Service at Santa Sabina Basilica, on February 26, 2020 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Vatican Pool/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - FEBRUARY 26: Pope Francis celebrates Ash Wednesday Service at Santa Sabina Basilica, on February 26, 2020 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Vatican Pool/Getty Images)
Pope Francis leads the Ash Wednesday mass which opens Lent, the forty-day period of abstinence and deprivation for Christians before Holy Week and Easter, on February 26, 2020, at the Santa Sabina church in Rome. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP) (Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images)
Cardinal prepares the sign of the cross with ashes on the forehead of Pope Francis during the Ash Wednesday mass which opens Lent, the forty-day period of abstinence and deprivation for Christians before Holy Week and Easter, on February 26, 2020, at the Santa Sabina church in Rome. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP) (Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images)
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The Argentine pope has generally enjoyed good health. He lost part of one lung as a young man because of a respiratory illness, and suffers from sciatica, which makes walking difficult.

Francis has had a busy schedule lately, including his public general audience on Wednesday and the Ash Wednesday service later in the day in a Roman basilica.

During the audience, Francis made a point to shake hands with the faithful in the front row, kissed a baby during his popemobile spin through St. Peter's Square and greeted visiting bishops at the end. The prelates, however, appeared to be refraining from kissing his ring or embracing him, as they normally would do.

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