Pope Francis said Sunday his recovery from his latest abdominal surgery is going well and stressed that he ditched speeches during his five-day trip to Portugal and spoke off-the-cuff not because he was tired or feeling unwell, but to better communicate with young people.
Francis was asked about his health en route home from Lisbon, where he presided over World Youth Day festival. It was his first trip since he was hospitalized in June for nine days following last-minute surgery to repair an abdominal hernia and remove intestinal scar tissue.
The trip, which came during a heat wave that sent temperatures to 104F in Lisbon, was notable because the 86-year-old pontiff deviated so often from his speeches, homilies and even prayers, which are usually drafted months in advance and crafted with specific events and audiences in mind.
One of the most notable deviations was a prayer for peace that Francis was supposed to have delivered in the Portuguese shrine of Fatima, which is famous precisely because of its century-old connection to exhortations for peace and Russia’s conversion in the aftermath of World War I.
Given Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, a papal peace prayer at Fatima was to have been one of the highlights of Francis’ visit, but also potentially problematic as the Vatican seeks to maintain relations with Moscow and the Russian Orthodox Church, which has strongly supported the Kremlin’s invasion.
Instead of pronouncing the prayer, Francis ad-libbed his speech before the statue of the Madonna and skipped the peace prayer entirely, reciting instead a Hail Mary with young disabled people. The Vatican later posted part of the prayer on the @Pontifex handle of the platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
Asked why, Francis insisted en route back to Rome that he had prayed silently for peace but didn’t want to give “publicity” to a public prayer.
“I prayed! I prayed! I prayed to the Madonna and I prayed for peace. I didn’t make publicity. But I prayed. And we have to continually repeat this prayer for peace.”
A Vatican official, speaking on condition he not be named, noted that Francis had originally wanted to travel to Fatima alone, with just a few gendarmes for a private visit, but relented to a proper visit. The official denied any ecclesial-diplomatic considerations entered Francis’ decision-making, suggesting instead that the omission was part of an attempt to separate Fatima’s mystical-religious value from its Soviet and World War I history.
Francis, meanwhile, said he cut short his other speeches because he realized young people “don’t have a lot of attention” and that he needed to engage them, not lecture them with lengthy, complicated discourses or homilies, he said.
“Homilies can sometimes be torture,” he said. “Bla, bla, bla.”
He said the church must come around to a new idea of homilies that are “brief and with a clear, loving message.”
On his recovery, Francis said he had the abdominal stitches removed, but that he had to wear a protective belt for two to three months to ensure the incision healed well. “My health is good,” he said.
In other comments, Francis affirmed that he included LGBTQ+ Catholics in his exhortation that “todos, todos, todos” (everyone, everyone, everyone) is welcome in the Catholic Church. The comment became something of a motto for this World Youth Day, reflective of his vision of an inclusive church, welcome to all.
“The church is mother,” he said. “Each of us finds God on his or her own path in the church. And the church is mother, and guides each one on his or her path.”