Pope appears unable to climb a few steps as respiratory and mobility problems take their toll

Persistent respiratory and mobility problems continue to take their toll on the pope

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis again asked an aide to read his remarks and was unable to get back into his popemobile Wednesday as persistent breathing and mobility problems continued to take their toll on the 87-year-old pontiff.

Francis presided over the weekly general audience, which was held outside for the first time this year on a cold St. Peter’s Square. But he had an assistant read his catechism lesson, as he has done in recent days.

Last Wednesday, Francis went to the hospital for unspecified diagnostic tests, the results of which have not been released. He has suffered off and on this winter with what he and the Vatican believe were colds, bouts of bronchitis and flu.

Late last year, Francis underwent a CAT scan that ruled out pneumonia, but the pope was still forced to cancel a trip to the Gulf due to a severe bout of acute infectious bronchitis.

Francis has also suffered a knee fracture and ligament inflammation, requiring him to use a wheelchair from 2022. But he has mostly managed to get around with a cane or walker and the help of assistants to get him into a standing position.

On Wednesday, however, Francis appeared unable to climb the few steps to enter his popemobile at the end of his audience, even as he held on to the handrails. Assistants quickly returned his wheelchair and he sat back down. He then greeted the crowd before being driven from the square.

The Argentine pope had part of one lung removed as a young man due to a respiratory infection, and often speaks in whispers even when not ill. In 2021, he had a piece of his colon removed and last year he had surgery to repair an abdominal hernia and remove intestinal scar tissue.

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