Pope Francis tests negative for coronavirus after missing retreat because of a cold - report

Pope Francis has tested negative for coronavirus, according to an Italian media report, after he cancelled a Lent retreat for the first time in his papacy because of illness.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said he had no comment on the report in Italian newspaper Il Messaggero.

The 83-year-old Roman Catholic leader, who had part of one lung removed because of an illness decades ago, cancelled most audiences last week.

A coughing Pope Francis told pilgrims gathered for the traditional Sunday blessing that he was is cancelling his participation at a week-long spiritual retreat in the Roman countryside.

It is the first time in his seven-year papacy that he has missed the spiritual exercises that he initiated early in his pontificate to mark the start of each Lenten season.

His weekly appearance Sunday to pilgrims from a window high above St Peter’s Square was the first time he has been seen publicly since Ash Wednesday, when he was seen coughing and blowing his nose during Mass.

Francis paused twice to cough Sunday while addressing the faithful. At the end, he asked for prayers for the spiritual retreat, adding “unfortunately a cold prevents me from participating this year. I will be following the meditation from here.”

Last week, the pope cancelled two planned official audiences - formal affairs in the Apostolic Palace where Francis would have delivered a speech and greeted a great number of people at the end. Those were to include an audience with an international bioethics organisation and with members of the scandal-marred Legion of Christ religious order.

Francis has never previously cancelled so many official audiences or events in his papacy.