Pope Francis delivers Easter Sunday address, amid concerns for his health, calls for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza

After the service, Francis took to his open-topped popemobile to greet crowds in the square and the avenue connecting St Peter’s to the River Tiber. The Vatican said about 60,000 people had turned up.

The address, delivered without incident or further indications of poor health, has helped to bolster the observations of those who have downplayed the significance of previous incidents.

“The pope’s decision to abandon the Palm Sunday homily seems to be a spiritual choice, not more,” Deborah Castellano Lubov, a Vatican analyst and contributor for NBC News, said. “It is clear to anyone watching Pope Francis in these years, he doesn’t make decisions based on what others think or what others tell him to do.”

“Concerns that it could be something more worrying didn’t seem to have great foundations, as Pope Francis certainly seemed to be able to recite his appeals at the end of the Mass and circle around afterward greeting the enthusiastic crowds in St. Peter’s Square, before kicking off a grueling Holy Week at full speed,” Lubov said on Sunday, ahead of the pope’s Easter speech. On Saturday night, he presided over the Easter vigil, also without incident.

On Holy Thursday, the pope stuck to the schedule and washed the feet of 12 female inmates at Rebibbia prison in the outskirts of Rome, a tradition meant to emulate Jesus Christ’s washing of his disciples’ feet the night before he died.

Pope Francis arrives in a wheelchair in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican for Easter Sunday Mass.Andrew Medichini / AP

Due to his mobility problems, he was forced to sit in a wheelchair, but he was determined to carry out the tradition nevertheless. He also became the first pontiff in history to wash the feet of only women on Holy Thursday.

But then, on Good Friday, the Vatican announced at the very last minute that the pope would not attend the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum “to preserve his health” for Saturday’s Vigil and Easter Sunday Mass. The pontiff, the Vatican said, would follow the event from Casa Santa Marta, his residence, leaving the white seat prepared for him at the Colosseum empty.

This is the second year in a row the pope has skipped the Way of the Cross. Last year, he did not attend as he was discharged from the hospital only a few days earlier, after he was treated for bronchitis with intravenous antibiotics. But while his absence last year was announced with a few days’ notice, the sudden cancellation this year once again raised concerns.

Concerns about the pope’s declining health started in 2021, when he was rushed to the hospital to have part of his colon removed. Then in June 2023, he was once again admitted, without prior notice by the Vatican, for abdominal surgery to remove internal scar tissue.

His mobility problems worsened during the past year due to sciatica and severe knee pain. He began walking with a cane, and more recently has been using a wheelchair. In November, he pulled out three days before a scheduled trip to Dubai to attend COP28 due to a persistent lung inflammation.

The pope’s declining health sparked wild speculation on whether he will retire just as his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, did in 2013. But in a recently published autobiography, “Life: My Story Through History,” the pope said, at least at the present, there is “no risk” of him resigning. “I believe the pope’s ministry is for life.” Francis wrote. “I therefore see no justification for giving it up.”