By Elise Ann Allen
FATIMA, Portugal (Crux) — After Pope Francis set aside a prepared speech in Lisbon Friday morning, citing problems with his eyesight amid poor lighting, concern over the pontiff’s vision has grown after he largely ignored two other prepared texts, including a highly anticipated message Saturday morning in Fatima.
A Vatican spokesman told Crux Saturday morning, however, there’s no cause for alarm.
“The pope always addresses the people he meets firstly as a shepherd, and speaks accordingly,” said spokesman Matteo Bruni.
“The problem with his sight yesterday morning was due to the lighting, which produced a reflection on his glasses,” Bruni said, adding there was no problem with the pontiff’s eyesight.
During a visit to a charitable center in Lisbon Friday morning, the pope delivered the first couple of paragraphs of his prepared speech but then set it aside, telling the small gathering that the lighting made it difficult for him to read, and promising that the text would be made public.
Pope Francis again discarded his prepared speech during a Way of the Cross ceremony with young people gathered in Portugal for World Youth Day (WYD) on Friday evening, appearing at times to look down at his text but never reading from it.
Expectations were high ahead of the pope’s visit to the Marian shrine in Fatima Saturday morning, with many observers anticipating that he would deliver a message of peace amid the ongoing war in Ukraine.
However, after praying the rosary with sick young people and prisoners, Pope Francis again delivered the first few lines of his prepared speech but then deviated, offering attendees a brief, off-the-cuff reflection on the Virgin Mary.
Pope Francis also skipped his prepared prayer at the end of the rosary, asking attendees to join him in praying the Hail Mary instead.
Burni said he had spoken with Pope Francis after the Fatima event, and that even though the pope did not make a public appeal for peace at the shrine, he “prayed with pain for peace” in the world during a moment of silence while the rosary was being prayed, the fourth decade of which was dedicated to peace.
Apart from concern over his eyesight, Bruni said the pope is doing well and is no more tired than anyone else in his delegation given his busy schedule, and that skipping the speeches was a choice Pope Francis made as a pastor.
Concern over the pope’s health has increased in recent months following two hospital stays this year, one for a serious bout of bronchitis and the other for a surgery to repair an abdominal hernia.
The 86-year-old pontiff also suffers from chronic sciatica and knee pain which for over a year has often confined him to a wheelchair. Last year he had surgery to repair cataracts, but it is unclear if that is what is creating difficulty for the pope in delivering his prepared speeches in Portugal.
Despite the questions about his vision, Pope Francis otherwise has seemed resilient so far during a fairly grueling itinerary in Portugal, clearly alert and his voice strong during his public addresses.
In his off-the-cuff remarks in Fatima, Pope Francis reflected on Mary going “in haste” to visit her cousin Elizabeth after finding out they were both pregnant, calling her “Our Lady of Haste” and saying Mary also hurries to be close to each person.
“She accompanies the life of Jesus, and she does not hide after the resurrection,” he said, saying Mary accompanies the church as it grows and always “points to Jesus.”
“Mary in her life does nothing but point to Jesus, do what he tells you, follow Jesus. She welcomes us and points to Jesus, and she does it in a hurry,” he said.
Pope Francis asked those present to look at the famed statue of Our Lady of Fatima in the shrine’s outdoor chapel, where the rosary was prayed, and to reflect silently in their hearts on what she is telling them, offering her their worries, concerns, motivations, and interests.
“We feel the presence of the mother. She that points to Jesus, and that she asks him to do what we ask. Our Lady of Haste,” he said, closing his remarks.
Pope Francis is currently making an Aug. 2-6 visit to Portugal for WYD, and he is expected to deliver a prepared speech to young people during a prayer vigil for the event Saturday evening.