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Pope resumes public audiences month after major surgery

Pope Francis speaks during his weekly general audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. It was Francis' first general audience since undergoing planned surgery to remove half his colon for a severe narrowing of his large intestine on July 4, his first major surgery since he became pope in 2013. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis resumed his routine of holding weekly audiences with the general public a month after he underwent bowel surgery, and during the much-awaited appearance Wednesday he recalled the anniversary of the devastating Beirut port explosion and expressed the desire to someday visit Lebanon.

Francis walked unaided to the center of the stage of a Vatican auditorium before taking his seat in an upholstered chair and then addressing an audience of several hundred pilgrims and tourists, who wore masks as a precaution against COVID-19.

Near the end of an almost hour-long audience, 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.

Francis, 84, was hospitalized on July 4 in Rome for an operation in which a section of his colon was removed. The Vatican said the surgery was necessitated by diverticular stenosis, or a narrowing of the bowel.

During Wednesday’s appearance, audience members clapped vigorously at this appearance, after he finished his introductory remarks and after he greeted each language group.

“I hope that the coming summer holidays will be a time of refreshment and spiritual renewal for you and your families,” Francis said in Italian to English-speaking visitors. His remarks were translated for each language group.

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.