Pope Francis urged the people and leaders of Congo and South Sudan on Saturday to “turn a page” and forge new paths of reconciliation, peace and development.
The decision to scrap the July 2-7 trip to Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan was taken “with regret” at request of the pope’s doctors, who have been treating him for a torn ligament in his knee.
Francis issued a video message on the day he was supposed to have begun a week-long pilgrimage to the two African countries. Francis had to cancel the trip because of knee pain that has made walking and standing difficult.
In the message, the pope said he was “greatly disappointed” by the turn of events and promised to visit “as soon as possible.”
He urged the people of both countries to not allow themselves to be robbed of hope, despite the violence, political instability, exploitation and poverty that he said had pained them for so long.
“You have a great mission, all of you, beginning with your political leaders,” Francis said.
“It is that of turning a page in order to blaze new trails, new paths of reconciliation and forgiveness, of serene coexistence and of development,” he added.
While Francis was unable to travel, he is due to celebrate a special Mass at St. Peter’s on Sunday for Rome’s Congolese community.
His No. 2, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, has been sent to visit both Congo and South Sudan this week in the days he was supposed to have been there.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the pope, who was elected in 2013, would skip the trip “in order not to jeopardize the results of the therapy that he is undergoing for his knee” and that it would take place at “a later date to be determined”.
The trip to Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan in the summer heat would have been difficult for the 85-year-old pontiff under normal circumstances but mobility problems would have made it excessively stressful.
It would have entailed five plane journeys and three Masses that would have required him to remain standing for long periods. He was also due to make more than a dozen addresses, meet political officials and Church groups and visit camps for displaced people in both countries.
When he went to Malta in April, the pope had to use a freight lift to board and leave the planes because of the knee problem.
In February, the pope cancelled a weekend trip two days before it was due to start because of a flare-up of the knee pain as well as Ash Wednesday services the following week.
His condition improved for a while but in several times in the past few weeks he was forced to delegate the celebration of papal Masses to a senior cardinal while he remained seated and read the homily.
Additional Sources: AP