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Pope Francis Postpones Trip to Africa, Citing Knee Problems

ROME — The Vatican announced Friday that Pope Francis would postpone a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, scheduled for next month, because of continuing problems with his knee.

The postponement came “at the request of his doctors, and in order not to jeopardize the results of the therapy that he is undergoing for his knee,” a Vatican spokesman, Matteo Bruni, said in a statement.

He said the pope expressed “regret” that the trip had to be deferred and that it would be rescheduled “to a later date to be determined.”

Francis, 85, began using a wheelchair about a month ago because of problems with his right knee, which has made it painful for him to walk or stand for long periods of time. Last month, he postponed a trip to Lebanon, originally scheduled for mid-June.

The Vatican has never specified what is wrong with the pope’s knee. In an interview published in the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera in early May, Francis said he had a torn ligament and had been prescribed “a series of knee injections.”

He said that the problem with his knee had been “going on for some time now — I can’t walk around anymore.” He added, as a joke: “Once upon a time, popes used to be carried around in their sedan chair. But a bit of pain can be humbling, a blessing in disguise.”

His knee problem is the latest in a string of relatively minor health issues the pontiff has faced, raising concerns that he may be slowing down. Last July, however, he underwent surgery to remove part of his colon, which kept him in hospital for 10 days.

In February, Francis canceled a trip to Florence, Italy, after doctors told him to take it easy with his knee, and he also sat out Ash Wednesday celebrations in March. The pope also has problems with sciatica, a chronic nerve condition that causes, back, hip and leg pain, and makes him walk with a limp. Flare-ups of that condition have forced him to cancel or modify high-profile appearances.

Francis had been scheduled to travel to Congo and South Sudan from July 2 to 7, with a schedule that included Masses and prayer meetings, as well as meetings with officials, priests and seminarians and visits to displaced people in camps.

In South Sudan, Francis had planned to travel to a camp for internally displaced people in Juba with the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Rev. Iain Greenshields, the moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

Francis has repeatedly expressed his concern over the continuing conflicts in both Congo and South Sudan, praying for both countries in numerous Christmas and Easter addresses.

Preparations had been ramping up in Congo for his visit, and the country’s vast Catholic population had been encouraged to turn out in large numbers to welcome him.

Many Congolese took to social media to wish the pope a fast recovery.

Fighting between rebels and Congo’s military has intensified in the east of the country in the past few weeks, raising tensions with one of its eastern neighbors, Rwanda, which it has accused of supporting a Congolese rebel group.

Congo’s minister of communication, Patrick Muyaya, wished Francis a speedy recovery and said the country would be ready whenever the postponed trip took place, calling it a “visit under the sign of peace and reconciliation.”

Francis is also scheduled to travel to Canada next month, but the Vatican statement on Friday did not mention that trip.

Despite the evident problems he has walking, Francis has kept his good humor.

Last month, a video posted to TikTok captured an exchange between Francis and some Mexican seminarians during an audience in St. Peter’s Square. In it, the pope is thanked for being so cheerful and present despite his knee problems. The pope replied: “Do you know what I need for my knee? A bit of tequila.”

Ruth Maclean contributed reporting from Dakar, Senegal.

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