Pope Francis
Pope Francis hugs a girl, as he meets children from all over the world during an event titled "Let's learn from boys and girls" in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican, November 6, 2023. Image Credit: Reuters

Vatican City: Pope Francis on Monday skipped reading a prepared speech for a meeting with European rabbis, telling them he was not feeling well, and the Vatican said he was suffering from a slight cold but would go ahead with his other engagements for the day.

“Good morning. I greet you all and I welcome you and thank you for this visit, which greatly pleases me,” he told a delegation from the Conference of European Rabbis.

“But it happens that I am not well and because of this I prefer not to read the speech but give you a copy,” he said.

Francis appeared to be short of breath as he greeted the rabbis at the start of the meeting, and the cancellation of his speech set off a brief health scare for the 86-year-old pontiff.

Francis is missing part of one lung, which was removed when he was a young man in his native Argentina.

“Pope Francis has a bit of a cold and a long day of audiences,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement.

“He wanted to greet the European rabbis individually and so he gave them his written speech. The remainder of his activities continues regularly,” Bruni said.

In the past, Francis has not read prepared speeches at the last minute in order to preserve his strength. He has a big gathering with children from around the world scheduled for later on Monday at the Vatican.

The pope had surgery in June 7 to repair an abdominal hernia. He spent nine days in hospital and appears to have recovered completely from that operation.

He has made three trips abroad since the surgery and is scheduled to go to Dubai next month for the COP28 United Nations climate summit.

In his prepared speech to the rabbis, Francis said his first thought and prayers goes “above all else, to everything that has happened in the last few weeks,” a clear reference to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack in Israel, including the taking away of hostages to the Gaza Strip, and the ensuing Israeli-Hamas war.

“Yet again violence and war have erupted in that Land blessed by the Most High, which seems continually assailed by the vileness of hatred and the deadly clash of weapons,” Francis wrote in the speech.

With France, Austria and Italy among the countries in Europe recently seeing a spate of antisemitic vandalism and slogans, Francis added: “The spread of antisemitic demonstrations, which I strongly condemn, is also of great concern.”

The pontiff said believers in God are called to build “fraternity and open paths of reconciliation for all.”

“Not weapons, not terrorism, not war, but compassion, justice and dialogue are the fitting means for building peace,” Francis said in the speech.

The pontiff also advocated taking steps to “search for our neighbour” as well as acceptance and patience, and certainly not “the brusque passion of vengeance and the folly of bitter hatred.”