Pope Francis today held his first weekly audience since undergoing bowel surgery a month ago.
The 84-year-old pontiff walked unaided to the centre of the stage to address the Paul VI Hall, offering his prayers and condolences to Lebanon on the anniversary of the Beirut port blast.
After an almost hour-long sermon, Francis descended the stairs and greeted the faithful, shaking their hands, posing for selfies and blessing small children without a mask on.
It was his first audience since being admitted to hospital in Rome on July 4 for an operation to remove a section of his colon. The Vatican said the surgery was necessitated by diverticular stenosis, or a narrowing of the bowel.
Pope Francis poses for a selfie as he holds his first general audience in the Paul VI Hall since undergoing bowel surgery last month
The pontiff prompted some smiles from the audience as he fidgeted with his cap
Francis reaches out to give his blessings to small children held aloft by their parents
The Pope holds the arm of an aide as he attends the general audience at the Paul VI Hall on Wednesday
As he arrived at the Nervi Hall on Wednesday he smiled and gestured towards the visitors before taking his seat in an upholstered chair and addressing several hundred pilgrims and tourists, who wore masks as part of the Vatican's anti-pandemic measures for crowd situations.
After removing his face mask to protect against COVID-19, Francis walked unaided to the center of the stage of a Vatican auditorium.
Near the end of his sermon, Francis spoke of the Beirut explosion, recalling the 'victims, their families, the injured, and all those who lost homes and work' in the blast.
Lebanon's people, he said, were still 'tired and disappointed' in the aftermath, a reference to the economic and political crises convulsing the Middle Eastern nation on the Mediterranean Sea. Francis appealed to the international community to offer 'concrete gestures' of help to the Lebanese people and not 'just words.'
'My desire to visit you is great,' Francis said, adding he 'never tires of praying' for them.
On Wednesday, audience members clapped vigorously after he finished his introductory remarks and after he greeted each language group.
Pope Francis greets a child at the end of his weekly general audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican
The Pope laughs with the faithful as he leaves the Paul VI Hall on Wednesday
The Pope rubs his eyes during the general audience
The Pope is seen receiving a gift from a member of the congregation
After the pope gave participants his closing blessing, he went down the stage's steps with the help of two aides to greet some members of the public, pausing for a selfie with an audience member.
'I hope that the coming summer holidays will be a time of refreshment and spiritual renewal for you and your families,' Francis said during his scripted remarks.
Unlike previous pontiffs, who spent summers at the Vatican's holiday retreat in the cooler hills near Rome, or, in the case of John Paul II, who liked to vacation in the Italian Alps, Francis stays at the Vatican each summer.
But during his papacy, the Wednesday audiences have been suspended in July to give Francis some extra rest time during Rome's hot summers. His hospitalization therefore didn't interfere with his regular general audience schedule.
The Pope smiles and waves to the camera as a young man poses for a selfie
The Pope without a mask is surrounded by congregants
While recovering at the hospital, Francis stepped onto a 10-floor balcony to greet well-wishers. He still looks somewhat wan, but Francis has been in good spirits and adlibbed at times during his traditional Sunday window appearances to the crowd in St. Peter's Square.
His wish for a peaceful future for Lebanon echoed sentiments he voiced three days before his surgery.
On July 1, at a prayer service in St. Peter's Basilica, Francis insisted that Lebanon must remain a 'land of tolerance and pluralism' as he welcomed the country's Christian patriarchs to the Vatican to pray for an end to that country's crises.