The Pope’s health is always a question—especially when dealing with a 78-year-old pontiff with a history of serious health issues—and tripping on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica Saturday has added more grist to the rumor mill.
Less than a month ago, when rumors surfaced that Pope Francis suffered from a “benign brain tumor,” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi was quick to squelch the story, calling the reports “entirely unfounded” and the reporting “gravely irresponsible.”
The story began circulating in the Italian media Wednesday, after Il Quotidiano Nazionale carried a front-page article alleging that the 78-year-old pontiff had received a visit “some time ago” from Dr. Takanori Fukushima, a Japanese physician who works at the San Rossore clinic in Pisa, Italy. Further reports suggested that the doctor had flown by helicopter to see the Pope last January.
On Saturday, Pope Francis stumbled and fell to the ground as he ascended the steps in St Peter’s Square, stopping his fall with his hands before being helped back up by two security guards walking beside him.
He then continued his ascent, apparently unruffled by the fall.
“The Pope held the audience without problems and at the end he greeted numerous people,” said Father Lombardi, in an effort to head off any questions.
In September, a similar incident happened when Francis slipped on the ladder of the plane that brought him from New York to Philadelphia. At that time, he got up immediately. Last October 25, during a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pope tried in vain to hold up the 93-year-old French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, who fell and fractured his femur.
Since his election as leader of the Roman Catholic Church in 2013, Pope Francis has showed no signs of slowing down.
He has held his weekly general audience every Wednesday morning before tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square with no apparent difficulties.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.