Ailing Pope Francis to embark on Asia trip, his longest ever, in September

Published April 12, 2024
Pope Francis greets the crowd from the popemobile at the end of the Palm Sunday mass at St Peter’s square in the Vatican on March 24. — AFP
Pope Francis greets the crowd from the popemobile at the end of the Palm Sunday mass at St Peter’s square in the Vatican on March 24. — AFP

Pope Francis will travel to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and Singapore from September 2-13, the Vatican said on Friday, announcing his first overseas trip of the year and the longest of his 11-year papacy.

The Asia trip has been on the papal agenda for some time, but there had been doubts on whether the 87-year-old pontiff would embark on it given his increasing frailty, with a record of skipping engagements due to health problems.

His last international journey was a two-day stay in Marseille, France in September. In November, he pulled out of a trip to the COP28 climate conference in Dubai because of a lung inflammation.

Francis is now scheduled to be in Jakarta between Sept 3-6, Port Moresby and Vanimo between Sept 6-9, Dili September. 9-11 and Singapore Sept 11-13, his spokesman said in a statement.

Vietnam, which had been suggested by the pope and Vatican officials as a possible further destination during the nearly two-week long Asia trip, was not mentioned.

In recent months, the pope has been suffering on and off from what have been described as a cold, bronchitis and influenza, and he needs a wheelchair or a cane to move around due to a knee ailment.

His agenda this year also foresees Italian day trips to Venice on April. 28, Verona on May 18 and Trieste on July 7, and a visit to Belgium whose dates have not been confirmed, but expected in the second half of September.

The Argentine pope, the first from the so-called Global South, has made reaching out to Asia one of the priorities of his pontificate, during which the Vatican has struck a historic, yet contested, deal with China on bishop appointments.

Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim nation and its 8 million Catholics represent about 3 per cent of the total population. Timor-Leste, along with the Philippines, are Asia’s only predominantly Catholic countries.

In Singapore, Catholics comprise about 7pc of residents aged 15 or above, according to a 2020 census, while in Papua New Guinea about 26pc of the population are Catholics, according to a religious freedom report by the US State Department.

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