Pope’s knee problems cast doubt on foreign trips this summer

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ROME – A Lebanese government official said Pope Francis’s visit to the country next month, which had never been formally announced by the Vatican, was being postponed due to the pope’s health, casting doubt on Francis’s ambitious summer travel plans.

Speaking to National News Agency on Monday, Walid Nassar, who leads the committee charged with organizing the pope’s visit to Lebanon, said his country had received the Vatican’s letter officially informing them of the decision to postpone the visit and that a new date would be communicated “as soon as it is determined.”

Although the Vatican never officially announced the visit, Lebanese authorities had said it would happen June 12-13.

There is no indication yet of possible new dates.

News of the postponement of the Lebanon trip comes nearly one week after Pope Francis made his first public appearance in a wheelchair during a May 5 audience with members of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG), a conglomerate of women’s religious orders.

The Vatican ascribed the use of the wheelchair to the pope’s ongoing difficulties with knee pain.

In an interview last week, the pope said he had a torn ligament in his right knee and was receiving treatment through injections.

The Vatican said that at the moment, surgery is not being considered and, as far as the pope’s schedule goes, “the planned programs of the papal agenda remain,” despite the recent cancellation of several appointments to comply with doctor’s orders for the pope to rest his knee.

Francis has also increasingly opted out of presiding over major papal liturgies over the past few months and has asked various cardinals to celebrate the liturgies in his place. He has “assisted” at many of these events, sitting off to the side during the ceremony and standing only to deliver the homily.

Since last week’s wheelchair appearance, Pope Francis has kept his daily appointments, and has continued to use his wheelchair for his meetings and activities.

There has been no word yet on the status of the pope’s other planned summer travels, which include a confirmed visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, as well as unofficial plans to visit Canada in the summer and possibly Kazakhstan in the fall.

The visit to Congo and South Sudan is already on the schedule for July 2-7, and the pope has said he hopes to visit Canada later that month.

Despite the postponement of next month’s Lebanon trip, Francis has recently doubled down on his resolve to visit Congo and South Sudan.

On May 7, he sent a joint Easter message to South Sudanese officials that was signed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Jim Wallace.

In the message, the three religious leaders said they were writing in honor of the resurrection of Jesus, “who shows us that a new way is possible: a way of forgiveness and freedom, which enables us humbly to see God in each other, even in our enemies.”

“This path leads to new life, both for us as individuals and for those we lead,” they said.

The leaders prayed for South Sudan’s governing officials and said, “we look forward to visiting your great country.”

Pope Francis has long been invested in South Sudan’s peace process and has often voiced his desire to visit the country when conditions were stable enough to allow for a papal trip.

Yet while he appears determined to carry out his trip to Congo and South Sudan as planned, questions remain about his mobility, and how that may impact the trip.

This is not the first time a pope has struggled with limitations of physical movement. Those difficulties were characteristic of the latter years of the papacies of both John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Francis’s knee troubles could impact what he is able to do and how many appointments he is able to keep.

In addition to his knee troubles, the 85-year-old pope suffers from chronic sciatica and is missing a portion of a lung due to a pulmonary disease he contracted as a young Jesuit. He also underwent colon surgery in July 2021.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen

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