Pope pushes through nerve pain to give New Year’s blessing

VATICAN CITY (AP): Pope Francis ushered in the New Year on Friday with a traditional Angelus blessing from the papal library, pushing through nerve pain that forced him to skip New Year’s ceremonies in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The pope appeared relaxed as he stood at a lectern in the Apostolic Palace wishing the faithful watching via video “a year of peace, a year of hope.” He smiled into the camera as he repeated his customary sign-off, “don’t forget to pray for me,” and wishing everyone “a good lunch.”

The papal blessing was moved inside from the usual perch at a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square to discourage crowds as Italy is living under tighter COVID-19 restrictions this holiday season.

The Vatican on Friday announced that the pope would not preside over a New Year’s Eve prayer service nor the New Year’s Day Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica due to “painful sciatica.”

Francis has spoken openly about his sciatica in the past.

It is a form of pain in the lower body caused by compression or irritation on nerve roots or on the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower spine down the thigh.

At the conclusion of the Angelus, the pope called for peace in Yemen, where children are living “without education, without medicine, hungry,” and for the release of the Rev. Moses Chikwe, a bishop in the Owerri archdiocese of Nigeria, who was kidnapped last Sunday by gunmen.

In his Angelus blessing, the pope said “the pandemic taught us how much it is necessary to take interest in others’ problems and to share their concerns.”

In a similar vein, in a homily prepared for delivery by the pope but instead read by his secretary of state earlier Saturday, Francis wrote that there is need of a “vaccine for the heart. This vaccine is the cure. It will be a good year if we take care of others.”

He said that peace can happen if everyone, everywhere takes “by the hand those who need a comforting word, a tender gesture,” and “if we begin to be in peace with ourselves, and with those who are near us.”