ROME — Pope Francis has abandoned plans for a trip to Florence this weekend and will be unable to preside over Ash Wednesday services next week because of acute knee pain, the Vatican said on Friday.
The pope’s doctor had “prescribed a period of greater rest for the leg” because of “acute gonalgia,” or knee pain, the Vatican explained in a note.
The note did not specify whether the problem related to Francis’s previous difficulties with sciatica, a chronic nerve condition that causes, back, hip and leg pain, makes him walk with a limp, and has forced him to cancel or modify high-profile appearances in the past.
That condition, which Francis, 85, has called his “troublesome guest,” also makes it difficult for him to stand for long periods.
Francis was hospitalized for surgery in July to remove part of his colon, but he is generally considered to be in good health. The flare-up means, however, that he will not participate in a meeting in Florence on Sunday with bishops and mayors from the Mediterranean region, nor will he preside over the Ash Wednesday services that start the period of Lent.
In recent weeks, Francis had complained of an inflammation of the ligament in his right knee. At one general audience last month, he apologized to the faithful after informing them that he would not be able to move among them to bring his personal greetings.
The problem was “temporary,” he said, adding with a smile: “They say this only happens to old people, and I don’t know why it happened to me.”
A few days earlier, he apologized during another audience that he would have to remain seated. “My leg hurts, and it is worse if I remain standing,” he said.
The sciatica forced Francis to skip New Year’s Mass a little more than a year ago, and Francis attended a vespers service this past New Year’s Eve, but he did not preside over it as originally scheduled.
The knee pain, however troublesome, did not stop him from visiting the Russian ambassador to the Holy See on Friday morning “to express concern for the war” after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to the Vatican press office. The Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni confirmed that Francis spent more than half an hour with the ambassador, Alexander Avdeev.
And the pope is also planning to go farther afield. On Friday, the Vatican released his itinerary for a visit to Malta in early April.