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Pope Francis makes first public appearances since becoming ill with bronchitis

Pope Francis prayed at a statue of Mary near the Spanish Steps in Rome (Gregorio Borgia/AP)
Pope Francis prayed at a statue of Mary near the Spanish Steps in Rome (Gregorio Borgia/AP)

Pope Francis has made his first public appearance outdoors since being stricken by bronchitis two weeks ago, which forced him to cancel a planned trip to the Cop-28 climate conference in Dubai.

The pope has been steadily recovering, and for the December 8 holiday devoted to Mary he kept a traditional appointment to pray at the Spanish Steps.

He arrived in a black car, and blessed a crowd of onlookers before taking a seat in a chair facing a statue of the Madonna.

Pope Francis in a wheelchair
Pope Francis was seen in a wheelchair (Gregorio Borgia/AP)

The pontiff prayed for Mary’s mercy for “all the people oppressed by injustice and poverty, tried by war”, adding a special prayer for “the tormented Ukrainian people”, as well as Palestinians and Israelis “who have fallen back into a spiral of violence”.

Francis also addressed violence against women, a topic that has resonated in Italy in recent weeks following the killing last month of a 22-year-old female student in northern Italy.

“Mary, we need you as a woman, to entrust all of the women who have suffered violence and those who are still victims in this city, in Italy and in every part of the world,” the pope said.

Before his appointment at the Spanish Steps, Francis went to the St Mary Major basilica to pray before one of his favourite icons to Mary. He entered the basilica in a wheelchair.

Pope Francis delivers a blessing at the Vatican
Pope Francis delivers a blessing at the Vatican (Andrew Medichini/AP)

Francis earlier addressed the faithful from an open window overlooking St Peter’s Square for the traditional blessing, appearing for the first time to the public since his illness.

Francis, who turns 87 on December 17, came down with the flu on November 25 and was forced to cancel a planned trip to Dubai to participate in the UN climate conference. He later revealed he had been diagnosed with an acute case of infectious bronchitis that made breathing difficult.

It was the second time this year he has had a serious case of bronchitis. In spring he was admitted to hospital for three days to receive intravenous antibiotics.