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Frail pope to embark on Asia trip, his longest ever, in September

Frail pope to embark on Asia trip, his longest ever, in September

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

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. 3-6, Port Moresby and Vanimo between Sept. 6-9, Dili Sept. 9-11 and Singapore Sept. 11-13, 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 8 million Catholics represent about 3% of the total population. Timor-Leste, along with the Philippines, are Asia's only predominantly Catholic countries.

In Singapore, Catholics comprise about 7% of residents aged 15 or above, a 2020 census showed, while in Papua New Guinea, about 26% of the population are Catholics, according to a religious freedom report by the U.S. State Department. — Reuters