Pope to miss procession but no health alarm, Vatican says

VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis will not walk in a traditional religious procession through the streets of Rome on Thursday night in order to save his strength for coming engagements, the Vatican said.

It said there was no reason for alarm over the health of the 77-year old Argentine pope, who is known to suffer from sciatica, or leg pain caused by a pinched nerve. The procession of over a kilometre (0.7 miles) in which the pope holds up a gold monstrance - a case containing a communion host - marks the day that the Roman Catholic Church in Italy celebrates the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

"The pope saw it opportune to not do the long route by foot ... with a view towards his upcoming commitments," the Vatican said, noting that he will travel to southern Italy on Saturday.

The statement said that after saying Mass at the Basilica of St. John's the pope, who last year walked the route, would be driven to St. Mary's, await the procession there, and conclude the traditional ceremony.

The Vatican said he did not want to be driven on a popemobile while holding the communion host - as his predecessors did to conserve their strength in their later years - so that the attention of the faithful would remain on the religious event and not on him.

Last week the pope had to cancel an engagement because of a slight fever. But he has since made several appearances - including his Wednesday general audience before tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square - and looked in good health.

Earlier this week the Vatican said that the pope would hold no general audiences during the month of July. It noted he had also cut back on such audiences in both July and August last summer in order to rest, and to allow Vatican staff who would normally be involved in preparing the events to take holidays.

The pope is due to visit South Korea from Aug. 13-18 to take part in a gathering of Catholic Youth from all of Asia and hold a Mass for peace and reconciliation on the divided Korean peninsula.

On Sept. 21, he makes a day trip to Albania, his first visit as pontiff to a European country outside Italy.