Pope Cancels Trip to Congo and South Sudan Due to Bad Knee
Pope Francis postponed a planned July trip to Africa on doctors’ instructions due to chronic knee difficulties, the Vatican said Friday, dashed the expectations of the faithful there and raised new concerns about the 85-year-old pontiff’s health and mobility.
The trip to Congo and South Sudan, slated for July 2-7, has been delayed “to a later date to be decided,” according to the Vatican.
“At the request of his physicians, and in order not to risk the results of his knee rehabilitation, the Holy Father has been compelled to postpone, with sadness, his Apostolic Journey to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan,” the Vatican said in a statement.
Francis has been wheelchair-bound for a month owing to injured ligaments in his right knee, which have made walking and standing difficult and uncomfortable. He has so far resisted surgery, opting instead for injections, keeping the knee as immobile as possible, and walking with a cane with the assistance of a caregiver.
For months, there have been doubts about Francis’ capacity to navigate the Africa trip, which would have been difficult even without the knee difficulties. Even as late as last week, the Vatican was revealing the names of credentialed journalists scheduled to ride aboard the papal jet.
Francis was scheduled to go to South Sudan alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury and the leader of the Church of Scotland to make an ecumenical peace plea. A journey like this had been planned since 2017, but security worries kept pushing it back.
According to the Rev. John Gbemyoro, an official with the Sudan and South Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Friday’s announcement disappointed Christians in both nations.
“We don’t like hearing that,” Gbemyoro said to The Associated Press. “However, we are praying to God to cure him swiftly so that he may return to South Sudan.”
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Church of Scotland Moderator Rt. Rev. Iain Greenshields both expressed their support for Francis and expressed disappointment that the trip would be rescheduled.
“I continue to pray for the people of South Sudan in their problems and aspirations for peace,” Welby wrote. “I look forward to this historic visit at a later date.”
The Congolese government wished Francis a speedy recovery and told him that Congo would still welcome him “under the symbol of peace and reconciliation in Jesus Christ.”
Thousands of posters bearing Francis’ picture have already been set up in the eastern city of Goma, where Francis was scheduled to spend the day on July 4. According to manager Jacques Ndayango, the Hotel New Grand Lac had already reserved rooms for customers who wanted to stay for up to four days.
“We anticipate a $5,000 loss,” he added, adding that he hoped the pope would visit later this year.
A member of the Saint-Esprit Parish choir, Martha Mwavit, said the singers had spent two months practicing songs for the papal Mass in Goma. The Congolese Catholic faithful can only wait for Francis to arrive.
“I am 74 years old, and I don’t know whether I will be able to sing at a papal Mass.” “I’d prefer for his health to improve so that I may have this opportunity before I die,” she said.
Francis is also planned to visit Canada from July 24 to July 30, according to a Vatican statement issued Friday. The Vatican’s spokesperson, Matteo Bruni, would only confirm the pope’s other engagements.
Neil MacCarthy, the papal spokesperson in Canada, indicated that preparations for the trip were ongoing. The Pope plans to personally apologize to Indigenous peoples in Canada for injustices committed at residential schools.
“Great care is being taken to offer considerable intervals of repose for the Holy Father, as well as to ensure his involvement at activities is restricted in most instances to roughly one hour,” MacCarthy said in an email to The Associated Press. “We continue to pray for Pope Francis’ health and his ability to join us in Canada next month.”
On the condition of anonymity, a Canadian official familiar with the trip said that Canadian organizers were in Rome this week planning for Francis’ visit and that there were no indications of a potential cancellation.
The pope has allegedly informed pals that he does not want to have knee surgery due to his response to anesthesia when he had 33 centimeters (13 inches) of his large intestine removed in July 2021.
Because of Francis’ knee ailments, his decision to create 16 new voting-age cardinals in August, and his intentions to pay respect to a 13th-century pope who resigned, Celestine V, speculation has circulated over the pontificate’s destiny.
But Francis has made no hint that he wants or intends to retire. A papal resignation today, say Vatican observers, would be impossible given that Francis’ 95-year-old predecessor, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, is still alive.