Pope Francis has been tested for coronavirus after he fell ill and was forced to cancel a religious retreat near Rome. The pontiff had been due to go to a Lent retreat, but he did not go – the first time he has not attended the event during his papacy – because he was suffering from a heavy cold. The results for Covid-19 came back negative, according to Italian newspaper Il Messaggero this morning. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said he had no immediate comment on the report. The Roman Catholic leader, 83, who had part of one lung removed because of an illness decades ago, also cancelled most audiences last week. Francis was to have taken part in the week-long retreat with senior Vatican officials that began on Sunday night at a Church residence south of Rome. But in a surprise announcement hours earlier, he said he would be following it from his residence in a Vatican guest house.
He told thousands who gathered for his weekly appearance from a window high above St Peter’s Square, in the Vatican City, on Sunday that he would not be able to attend due to a cold. Francis asked for prayers for the Lenten retreat, adding: ‘Unfortunately, a cold prevents me from participating this year… I will be following the meditation from here’. He has been taken ill at a time when Italy is battling a surging outbreak of the potentially deadly coronavirus. The death toll in Italy jumped to 52 on Monday from 34 the day before and the total number of confirmed cases in Europe’s worst affected country climbed past the 2,000 mark. Francis’ appearance on Sunday was the first time he has been seen publicly since Ash Wednesday, when he was also seen coughing and blowing his nose during Mass. Earlier this week, he cancelled two planned official audiences – formal affairs in the Apostolic Palace where Francis would have delivered a speech and greeted a great number of people at the end.
Those were to include an audience with an international bioethics organization and with members of the scandal-marred Legion of Christ religious order. Francis has never previously cancelled so many official audiences or events during his papacy. The Vatican said he was continuing to work from his residence at the Vatican’s Santa Marta hotel and was receiving people in private.