The 85-year-old pontiff will not be visiting Lebanon in June, as the Lebanese head of state had hinted. For the time being, the other papal trips, to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, planned for July, are still on the schedule.
“Lebanon has received a letter from the Vatican officially informing it of the decision to postpone the Pope's planned visit to the country,” the tourism minister said in a statement released May 9, 2022.
And Walid Nassar invoked “health reasons” to justify the postponement of a trip which was to be held on June 12 and 13. A clarification that must have made people in Rome cringe.
At the beginning of April, a plan for a papal visit to Lebanon was revealed through an untimely tweet from the Lebanese head of state, in the midst of the campaign for the May 2022 legislative elections. Probably wishing to avoid any political instrumentalization, the Holy See’s press office contented itself with evoking “a possibility under study,” without giving it any official character.
The Vatican, in the wake of the Lebanese Minister of Tourism’s press release, confirms that the “project has not materialized,” being careful, however, to mention possible health concerns regarding Peter's successor.
On the Lebanese side, by insisting on the Roman pontiff’s state of health, they are trying above all to minimize the diplomatic hiccup, and not give this cancellation a political character, a few days before an important election for the country.
Of course, the Church leader's current fatigue is unmistakable: the 85-year-old pope, who suffers from knee pain, was first seen in a wheelchair in public in early May. The sovereign pontiff also suffers from hip pain which makes him limp and underwent a delicate colon operation in July 2021.
Whatever the real reasons for this change in the papal agenda, Francis has expressed his desire to visit Lebanon on several occasions.
A year after the terrible explosion in Beirut, in August 2020, during the general audience, the pope addressed his thoughts to the whole country and in particular to the victims, their families, and those who lost their homes and jobs. “My desire to visit you is great and I never tire of praying for you so that Lebanon may once again become a message of brotherhood and peace for the whole Middle East,” he declared.
Moreover, on March 8, 2021, on his return from Iraq, during the press conference on the plane with the journalists, Francis revealed that he had promised, in a letter to Cardinal Bechara Raï, Patriarch of Maronite Christians that he would go to Lebanon.