The Italian Daily Il Messagero reported today that Pope Francis had tested negative for novel coronoavirus – a report that the Vatican did not explicitly confirm. Holy See Press Office director Matteo Bruni instead issued a statement saying that the pope had a cold that was “running its course” and that he had no “symptoms attributable to other pathologies.”
All eyes have been on the Vatican for the past week as Pope Francis has suffered visibly from an illness that forced him to cancel a number of engagements. He has also been absent from his own Lenten retreat for the first time since he was elected in 2013. According to Vatican News, he has been following the spiritual exercises from the Casa Santa Marta, where he continues to recover.
Last Sunday, the pope’s Angelus prayer was interrupted by bouts of coughing, and speculation mounted that he might have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus which has infected over 92,000 people worldwide and caused the death of over 3,100 people as of this writing.
Italy was one of the first countries outside of China, where the virus originated, to experience an outbreak, with over 2,000 confirmed cases and 52 deaths reported there.
The pope had also met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his delegation on January 26 – a date that prompted speculation after some data indicated that the virus could incubate for as long as 27 days before symptoms manifested. After China, Iran has been the most affected by the virus, with over 2,300 cases and 77 deaths.
Iranian government officials have not been spared from the infection, with several notable cases among high-level staff. An advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei died of the infection this week, and one of Rouhani’s vice presidents, Masoumeh Ebtekar, is confirmed to have contracted the virus, as has Iran’s deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi.
On February 26, at his most recent Wednesday audience, the pope said that he wished to express his “closeness to those who are ill with coronavirus and to health-care workers who are caring for them.”
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have eight children.