Italy Pope Christmas

Pope Francis, right, is flanked by, from right, his vicar Cardinal Angelo Comastri, and Rome’s Mayor Roberto Gualtieri during his annual Christmas visit to venerate a statue of the Virgin Mary near the Spanish Steps in Rome on Friday. Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press

ROME — Pope Francis on Thursday made his first public appearance outdoors since being stricken by bronchitis two weeks ago, which forced him to cancel a planned trip to the COP-28 climate conference in Dubai.

The pope has been steadily recovering, and for the Dec. 8 holiday devoted to Mary kept a traditional appointment to pray at the Spanish Steps. He arrived in a black car and blessed a crowd of onlookers before taking a seat in a chair facing a statue of the Madonna.

The pontiff prayed for Mary’s mercy for “all the people oppressed by injustice and poverty, tried by war,’’ adding a special prayer for “the tormented Ukrainian people,” as well as Palestinians and Israelis “who have fallen back into a spiral of violence.”

Francis also addressed violence against women, a topic that has resonated in Italy in recent weeks following the killing last month of a 22-year-old female student in northern Italy. “Mary, we need you as a woman, to entrust all of the women who have suffered violence and those who are still victims in this city, in Italy, and every part of the world,’’ the pope said.

Before his appointment at the Spanish Steps, Francis went to the St. Mary Major Basilica to pray before one of his favorite icons Mary. He entered the basilica in a wheelchair.

Francis earlier addressed the faithful from an open window overlooking St. Peter’s Square for the traditional blessing, appearing for the first time to the public since his illness.

Francis, who turns 87 on Dec. 17, came down with the flu on Nov. 25 and was forced to cancel a planned trip to Dubai to participate in the U.N. climate conference. He later revealed he had been diagnosed with an acute case of infectious bronchitis that made breathing difficult.

It was the second time this year he has had a serious case of bronchitis; in spring he was hospitalized for three days to receive intravenous antibiotics.

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