A programme issued by the Vatican yesterday showed that the frail 84-year-old Pope was only scheduled to deliver his traditional blessing on Easter Sunday. But the Easter Sunday Mass itself and nearly all of the other ceremonies between Palm Sunday on March 20 and Easter Sunday on March 27 will be presided over by cardinals.
It was not clear if the Pope would even be able to attend the ceremonies, make only brief appearances or join the faithful via television link-ups.
The schedule showed that the Pope would deliver his Urbi et Orbi (to the city and the world) blessing on Easter Sunday after Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano celebrated the Mass in St Peter’s Square.
But it did not say from where he would deliver the blessing. He normally does so from the square after leading the Mass.
The schedule also indicated that the Pope, who is still undergoing speech rehabilitation therapy, may not be able to read his Easter message himself or carry on with the tradition of reading Easter greetings in many languages. The only Holy Week celebration which had no one delegated to preside at was the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) service at the Colosseum, indicating that the Pope still wanted to do it if his health permitted.
It would be the first time in his 26-year-old papacy that the Pope had not presided at Easter season services. The Pontiff normally presides at eight long ceremonies during Holy Week.
Aides were studying the possibility of keeping the Pope in his Vatican apartments, if he is out of the hospital by then, and broadcasting live pictures to faithful at some of the services.
The schedule, which did not say what the Pope would be doing while others presided for him, named the six cardinals who had been delegated to lead the events on his behalf.
In its latest medical bulletin on Monday, the Vatican said the Pope’s health was improving, that he was expected to return to the Vatican before Holy Week and that he would decide after he goes home what role he would play in the services.
The Pope has been in hospital since February 24, when he underwent a tracheotomy to help ease severe breathing problems. A tube is still in place in his windpipe to help him breathe.