Just one day after Pope Francis gave support to coronavirus victims, the head of the Catholic Church has come down with a "slight indisposition".

The illness forced the Pope to cancel a penitential Mass in Rome, the Vatican said.

The 82-year-old's illness has not been specified but he was seen coughing and blowing his nose during Ash Wednesday Mass.

Pope Francis walks in procession to the Basilica of Santa Sabina before the Ash Wednesday Mass opening Lent. Photo / AP
Pope Francis walks in procession to the Basilica of Santa Sabina before the Ash Wednesday Mass opening Lent. Photo / AP

It comes a day after he kissed heads and touched faces as he met with crowds in St Peter's Square, saying he had solidarity with those suffering from coronavirus.

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Italy is currently in the grips of a coronavirus outbreak that has seen towns in the north placed on lockdown and travellers from the region spread the infection to previously unaffected areas of Europe.

Four hundred cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in the country and 12 people have died.

Rome had three cases, but all three were cured.

The pontiff reportedly will continue with the rest of his planned work but preferred to stay by Santa Marta, the Vatican hotel where he lives, officials said.