Frail pope to travel to Singapore and other parts of Asia in September in his longest-ever trip

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis will take his first overseas trip of the year and the longest of his 11-year papacy, travelling to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and Singapore from Sept 2 to 13, the Vatican said on Friday (April 12).

The Asia and Oceania 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 and 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 to 6, Port Moresby and Vanimo between Sept 6 to 9, Dili Sept 9 to 11 and Singapore Sept 11 to 13, his spokesman said in a statement.

Vietnam, which had been suggested by Vatican officials as a possible further destination during the nearly two-week long Asia and Oceania trip, was not mentioned.

In recent months, the pope has been suffering on and off from what the Vatican has 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 eight million Catholics represent about three per cent of the total population. Timor-Leste, along with the Philippines, are Asia’s only predominantly Catholic countries.

In Singapore, Catholics comprise about seven per cent of residents aged 15 or above, a 2020 census showed, while in Papua New Guinea, about 26 per cent of the population are Catholics, according to a religious freedom report by the US State Department.

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