Pope Francis was first seen wearing a protective mask on Wednesday while attending his second traditional general audience before a limited public presence after a six-month suspension.
However, the pontiff, known for his fondness for close personal contact, quickly removed his mask as he got out of the car that was taking him to the audience, which was suspended in February due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But he avoided his usual practice of shaking hands and kissing babies as some 500 worshipers filled a courtyard in the Apostolic Palace inside the Vatican.
At their second meeting since suspending general audiences on February 26, the crowd gathered behind a barrier and some even lowered their masks to salute the leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
The pope shook hands with the prelates who attended the audience and, smiling, turned to the crowd, urging them not to shake hands and return to their seats to “avoid contagion.”
Francis focused on the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic, which he said “had no barriers.”
He advocated for a society in which people should be more supportive of their neighbors.
Pope Francis, whose birth name is Jorge Bergoglio, has shown little fear for his health since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year.
Before Wednesday, he had never appeared wearing a mask and had continued to receive visitors inside the Apostolic Palace, although fewer groups than before.
Last Thursday he shook hands with a group of French actors committed to defending the environment. The group was exempt from wearing face masks and included actress Juliette Binoche.
The 83-year-old pontiff had difficulty wearing a mask that restricted his breathing, a member of his entourage said Wednesday.
When he was 21 years old, Jorge Bergoglio suffered from acute pleurisy and surgeons removed part of his right lung, according to his biographer Austen Ivereigh.
This forced him to give up his dream of becoming a Jesuit missionary in Japan and he also had to stop playing soccer.