Pope Francis seen publicly in wheelchair for first time, citing knee pain

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Pope Francis appeared at his general audience in a wheelchair for the first time since his colon surgery.

The pontiff was escorted by wheelchair to his appearance on Thursday – the first time he’s needed such support since his surgery in 2021. Pope Francis, who remained in high sprits, spoke to nuns and religious superiors at Paul VI Hall. The talk was centered on “vulnerability” for laity and clergy, and encouraged listeners to examine their own limits and weaknesses. 

“Like Peter and with Peter, we are now called, after recognizing our vulnerability, to ask ourselves what are the new vulnerabilities before which we, as consecrated men and women, must lower ourselves today,” the pontiff said. 

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After his audience, the pontiff struggled to stand, requiring assistance from a papal gentleman. Video shows pilgrims cheering for the pontiff as he clings onto the attendant and uses his chair’s arm to steady himself before his exit.

Last July, the pope underwent surgery on his colon and was hospitalized for almost two weeks. Since the operation, the pontiff has regularly complained of knee pain and other side effects that make mobility and physical exertion difficult. Pope Francis has previously opted to sit when possible instead standing for prolonged periods of time.

On Easter Sunday, the pope participated in a service at the Vatican and was able to walk the long aisle to his seat by using an attendant as support.

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Pope Francis appeared to partly blame the West for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in an interview published this week, suggesting that the “barking of NATO at Russia’s door” may have forced Putin’s hand. 

Pope Francis attends an audience with nuns and religious superiors after arriving in a wheelchair in the Paul VI Hall at The Vatican, Thursday, May 5, 2022. Francis, 85, has been suffering from strained ligaments in his right knee for several months. He revealed he recently received some injections to try to relieve the pain, but he has continued to struggle to walk and stand. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Pope Francis attends an audience with nuns and religious superiors after arriving in a wheelchair in the Paul VI Hall at The Vatican, Thursday, May 5, 2022. Francis, 85, has been suffering from strained ligaments in his right knee for several months. He revealed he recently received some injections to try to relieve the pain, but he has continued to struggle to walk and stand. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

“An anger that I don’t know if you can say was provoked, but maybe facilitated,” the Pope told the Italian Corriere della Sera newspaper. 

A June meeting between Francis and Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill in Jerusalem was called off recently over concerns that it would send an “ambiguous” signal, but the two did talk for 40 minutes over videoconference in March. 

Francis said Kirill spent half of that March meeting reading off “all the justifications for the war” and said that Kirill must not “transform himself into Putin’s altar boy.”

The relationship between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church could be further strained by sanctions that were proposed Wednesday by the European Union on Kirill. 

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