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Pope asks an aide to read a speech aloud for him, raising further concerns over his health

The 87-year-old Pontiff was taken to a Roman hospital on Wednesday for diagnostic testing after having to cancel some public audiences

Pope Francis
Pope Francis gives a sweet to a child during his weekly general audience in the Paul VI Hall, Vatican City, 28 February 2024.GIUSEPPE LAMI (EFE)

Pope Francis, who has been suffering from the flu, asked an aide to read out his prepared speech at a conference in the Vatican Friday, saying he has not yet fully recovered from his latest ailment that has raised concerns about his capacity to continue leading the Roman Catholic Church.

The 87-year-old Pontiff, who was taken to a Roman hospital on Wednesday for diagnostic testing after having to cancel some public audiences, handed his speech to his aide, Mons. Filippo Ciampanelli.

“I still have a cold and I get fatigued after reading for a while,” he said. Francis, who has been hospitalized three times since becoming pope in 2013, began using a wheelchair and cane to walk after suffering knee trouble last year.

Speaking off the cuff at the opening of the two-day conference, entitled “Man-Woman Image of God - For an Anthropology of Vocations,” he blasted what he called “gender ideology” as the “ugliest danger”.

“It is very important that this meeting is taking place, this encounter between men and women,” he told the audience.

“Because the ugliest danger today is the gender ideology … I have asked for studies to be done on this ugly ideology of our time, which cancels out differences and makes everything the same. To cancel difference is to cancel humanity,” he said.

The pontiff had canceled appointments last Saturday and Monday due to a persistent, but “mild flu,” but appeared as usual for the Sunday blessing from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square.

Last week, Francis coughed repeatedly as he presided over Ash Wednesday services at a Roman church, and opted not to participate in the traditional procession that inaugurates the church’s Lenten season.

Over the past few months, Francis had to cancel a few activities and one international trip due to his fragile health, which has recently raised worries over his capacity to continue to lead the Catholic Church.

The Argentine pope had part of one lung removed as a young man because of a respiratory infection, and in 2021 had a chunk of his colon removed because of an intestinal inflammation. He has been using a wheelchair and cane since last year because of strained knee ligaments and a small knee fracture that have made walking and standing difficult.

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