Pope Francis postpones Lebanon visit over knee ailment

Pontiff hobbled by acute pain, but trip expected to go ahead after short delay; visits planned for July still on schedule

Pope Francis arrives in a wheelchair to attend an audience with nuns and religious superiors in the Paul VI Hall at The Vatican, May 5, 2022. (AP Photo/ Alessandra Tarantino, File)
Pope Francis arrives in a wheelchair to attend an audience with nuns and religious superiors in the Paul VI Hall at The Vatican, May 5, 2022. (AP Photo/ Alessandra Tarantino, File)

Pope Francis has postponed a planned visit to Lebanon next month due to health reasons, a Lebanese Cabinet minister said Monday.

Minister of Tourism Walid Nassar did not specify the ailment, but the pope is known to be suffering acute knee pain that has greatly curtailed his mobility in recent months. He has recently appeared in public using a wheelchair.

Nassar initially told the Al-Markazia news agency that Lebanon was awaiting an official statement from the Vatican in this regard, attributing any postponement strictly to health reasons. He said postponement of the visit, if it occurs, will not be for a long time and that preparations for the visit were going ahead normally.

He later told the official National News Agency that Lebanon has received a letter from the Vatican officially informing it of the decision to postpone the scheduled visit, adding that a new date for the visit will be announced “as soon as it is determined.”

The visit, planned for mid-June, was announced by the Lebanese president’s office last month, but it had never been confirmed by the Vatican. Francis has held special prayers for Lebanon and has repeatedly said he plans to visit the small country experiencing an unprecedented economic meltdown began in October 2019.

Francis’ trip would be the first visit by a pope to the Mediterranean nation since 2012, when Pope Benedict XVI paid a three-day visit to Lebanon.

Despite Francis’ knee problems, the Vatican has confirmed his visit to Congo and South Sudan in early July, and Francis has said he hopes to visit Canada later that month.

Pope Francis, left, embraces Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill after signing a joint declaration on religious unity at the Jose Marti International airport in Havana, Cuba, February 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, Pool)

The Vatican had reportedly been exploring the possibility of having the pontiff briefly visit Jerusalem on the tail end of the trip for a meeting with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, but, in April, Francis said it had been “suspended.”

Speaking with Argentine daily La Nacion, the pope said Vatican diplomats warned that holding the meeting in June “could lead to much confusion.”

The pope did not offer any specifics on why it was called off or when it might be rescheduled for.

The Russian patriarch is a vocal supporter of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while the pontiff has called for an end to the war and decried the killing of children and other defenseless civilians in Ukraine.

“May there be peace for war-torn Ukraine, so sorely tried by the violence and destruction of this cruel and senseless war into which it was dragged,” Francis said on Easter, while addressing a crowd at St. Peter’s Square.

Pope Francis last visited Israel in May 2014. His trip included visits to religious sites in both Jerusalem and Bethlehem and a short stop at the West Bank security barrier, as well as visits to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, Theodor Herzl’s grave, and an Israeli memorial to victims of terrorism.

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