ROME —Pope Francis skipped an annual procession to a Roman basilica on Thursday as he takes it easy ahead of a grueling one-day trip to southern Italy this weekend.

The Vatican has denied media speculation that the 77-year-old Francis is sick. News reports have zeroed in on the fact that Francis, who only has one full lung, canceled his general audiences for July. Francis canceled his weekly general audiences in July last year as well, as have popes for years during the hot summer months.

Still, Francis appears to have taken to heart advice expressed privately by some aides that he should cut back his frantic work pace, particularly to rest up before big events. On Thursday, he decided to skip the mile-long procession from one Roman basilica to another.

Francis, who often walks with a limp because of a bad back and knees, actually broke with papal tradition when he walked the procession route last year in his first year as pope.