Francis unmasked


The pope’s mask became the subject of media attention during his first major public audience since lockdown.

After wearing a protective face mask in the car on the way to the 500-strong audience, Francis removed it, touching the mask’s front as he emerged from the vehicle.

Maskless, he shook hands with prelates attending the audience.

Redeeming himself somewhat, he then turned to the packed-in crowd, some of whom had lowered their masks to greet him, and, sporting a smile, urged them not to shake hands but to return to their seats to “avoid contagion”.

He went on to tell the audience the coronavirus (COVID19) pandemic would be defeated by “God’s love”.

Seen momentarily in public the week before with a mask, a Vatican official later explained Francis finds it difficult to wear a mask that restricts his breathing.

When he was 21, the young man who would become pope suffered from acute pleurisy, resulting in surgeons removing part of his right lung.

The 83-year old pontiff has shown little fear for his health since the pandemic outbreak.

Throughout the pandemic, he has continued to receive visitors within the Apostolic Palace – albeit fewer groups than before.

According to a statement from a Vatican official on Monday, the pope is being “constantly monitored” for signs of the coronavirus.

The Vatican comment followed news that Francis has met with a close ally, Philippine Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, who later tested positive for the virus.

Tagle, 63, had a private audience with Francis on 29 August and went on to test positive for Covid-19 on his return to Manila on 10 September.

The pope’s mask was also off on Thursday last week when he shook hands with a group of French actors committed to defending the environment.

The group exempted from wearing face masks included the actress Juliette Binoche.


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