Pope Francis, 87, will travel to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Singapore in September, according to the Vatican.—AFP
Pope Francis, 87, will travel to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Singapore in September, according to the Vatican.—AFP

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis will visit Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Singapore in September, the Vatican announced on Friday, an ambitious trip that could test the 87-year-old’s increasingly fragile health.

Running from September 2 to 13 and covering around 30,000 kilometres (18,600 miles) in total, the trip is the longest for the Argentine since he became head of the worldwide Catholic Church in 2013.

The Vatican said he would visit Jakarta from Sept 3 to 6, Port Moresby and Vanimo from Sept 6 to 9, Dili from Sept 9 to 11 and Singapore from Sept 11 to 13.

The visit, his first abroad since September last year, has been on the cards for months, but the pontiff’s health issues had raised questions on whether it would go ahead.

Francis pulled out of a key Easter event at the last minute in March, and has asked aides to read several of his speeches in recent weeks due a bout of bronchitis.

The pontiff, who uses a wheelchair, has suffered increasing health problems in recent years, from knee pain to surgery for a hernia and on his colon.

Francis had been due to visit Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Indonesia in September 2020 but the trip was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Tolerance, unity and peace

Involving more than 30 hours of flight, an eight-hour time difference and a series of meetings and masses, the September trip will represent a major physical challenge.

The government in Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, had already announced the pope’s visit last month, describing it as a “special gift” for the country’s Catholics.

On Friday, its foreign ministry said the visit was important ‘for all religious communities’.

“The visit is also expected to strengthen the message of tolerance, unity and world peace,” it said.

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2024

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