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

Courtesy: Dawn News/Reuters/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.

1- Header image: 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

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