Pope Lets Silence Speak for Him as He Skips a Palm Sunday Speech

As tens of thousands of faithful holding palm fronds in St. Peter’s Square looked on, the moment arrived in the Palm Sunday Mass for Pope Francis to deliver his homily in a service marking the beginning of Holy Week, one of the most demanding and significant on the Christian calendar.

“And now we hear the words of the Holy Father,” said the commentator on the Vatican’s media channel.

Instead, the crowd outside and all of those tuning in heard Francis breathing and the wind blowing over the square, as the pope, 87, decided at the last moment to forgo the homily, the sermon that is central to the service, and remain silent.

Francis’ choice to skip the strenuous speech at the outset of a week that culminates in the Easter celebration of the resurrection of Christ amounted to a highly unusual move that immediately raised concerns about the pope’s health, which is increasingly frail. In recent years, he has undergone an intestinal surgery, moved to a wheelchair and often has respiratory problems.

In recent weeks, Francis has often turned his speeches and teachings over to an aide to read aloud.

But Francis spoke in a clear voice before and after the skipped homily, celebrating the liturgy and delivering prayers, including his closeness to the victims of Friday’s terrorist attack in a Moscow suburb, and to the entire country of Ukraine, which he again called “martyred.” But given the pope’s health woes, most recently a seemingly emergency visit to a Rome hospital to check out his lungs, his silence spoke volumes.

Francis, who rarely walks now because of his bad knees, did not participate in the Macbethian procession of cardinals around the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square, and instead blessed them from the altar.

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