ROME – On Friday, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis’s planned trip to the Congo and South Sudan in July has been put on hold due his knee problems, marking the first time the pope has postponed a trip for health reasons.
Francis was set to visit the Democratic Republic of the Congo July 2-5, and South Sudan July 5-7, alongside Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Jim Wallace, for an ecumenical trip aimed at promoting peace in the war-torn nations.
In a June 10 statement, the Vatican said that the decision to postpone the pope’s Africa trip was made “at the request of his doctors, and in order not to jeopardize the results of the therapy that he is undergoing for his knee.”
No new date for the visit was provided, but the Vatican said it would be moved “to a later date to be determined.”
The decision to pull out of the trip, which is less than a month away, is significant given that it is the first international trip Pope Francis has canceled or postponed due to health reasons.
Francis also postponed plans to visit Lebanon this month. The trip had never been announced but was being organized. It was postponed due to the pope’s knee troubles. No new dates for the Lebanon visit have been announced.
The announcement that the pope would not travel to Lebanon, which was made by a Lebanese minister, came around one week after Pope Francis made his first public appearance in a wheelchair, which the pope said he was using so he could rest his knee.
In an interview at the time, Francis said he had a torn ligament and was receiving treatment through injections and was under doctors’ orders to rest his knee as much as possible.
The postponement of his Africa trip also comes amid fresh rumors that he is considering resignation, fueled largely by his recent health troubles and a trip to the Italian city of L’Aquila in August, where he will visit the tomb of Pope Celestine the V, who was the first pope to ever resign the papacy.
There has been no indication from the pope or the Vatican that Francis plans to resign, however, his ongoing knee troubles and the postponement of his trip to the Congo and South Sudan – a trip he has long desired to make – cast doubt on whether he will in fact be able to maintain the rest of his busy summer travel plans.
Pope Francis is set to visit Canada July 24-30, just a few weeks after his visit to Africa would have taken place.
In August, he is scheduled to visit L’Aquila, and in September, the pope is scheduled to make trips to Kazakhstan and to the southern Italian city of Matera.
It is unknown whether the pope will in fact be able keep these appointments, but the likelihood that he will travel to Canada, where he is expected to deliver an apology to Indigenous communities for the church’s role in the country’s residential school system, as scheduled is increasingly doubtful given his ongoing knee troubles.
The Vatican, in its announcement Friday, did not indicate whether Welby and Wallace will also postpone their trips, or whether they will make the visit as planned.
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