VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis is skipping New Year’s ceremonies due to what the Vatican says is a painful back condition, a spokesman said Thursday.

Matteo Bruni said Francis is suffering from “painful sciatica” and won’t preside at a year-end prayer service Thursday evening in St. Peter’s Basilica. The pope also won’t celebrate Mass on New Year’s Day in the basilica for the same reason.

Francis has suffered from the problem in the past. Sciatica can cause back and leg pain and is due to compression on nerve roots or on the sciatic nerve which runs from the lower spine down the thigh.

Despite the back pain, Bruni said Francis will deliver his scheduled New Year’s blessing during an appearance at noon Friday in the library of the Apostolic Palace.

A woman wearing a face mask walks with her dog outside of an empty St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, December 25, 2020.&nbsp (Photo by Riccardo De Luca/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) A woman wearing a face mask walks with her dog outside of an empty St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, December 25, 2020. 

To discourage crowds in St. Peter’s Square during a COVID-19 surge in Italy, Francis lately has moved his weekly and holiday blessing appearances to inside the Vatican instead of greeting faithful from a palace window overlooking the square.

The Thursday evening Vespers service and the Friday Mass will go ahead but will be presided over by Vatican cardinals.

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