VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Pope Francis will not be making a planned apostolic visit to the African countries of South Sudan and Congo this July due to worsening knee pain and following the advice of his doctors, according to a statement released by the Vatican on Friday (June 10).
“At the request of his doctors and in order not to jeopardize the results of the therapy that he is undergoing for his knee, the Holy Father has been forced to postpone, with regret, his Apostolic Journey,” which was planned for July 2–7, said the statement sent by Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni.
Pope Francis’ trip will be rescheduled for “a later date to be determined,” the statement added.
The 85-year-old pope is also scheduled to visit Canada July 24–30, but the Vatican has not announced whether the trip will take place given Francis’ struggles with his knee.
Francis cancelled a visit to Florence in February for a summit of politicians and bishops of the Mediterranean region, also citing knee pain.
Francis’ physical health has seen a steady decline since July 2011, when he had surgery to remove part of his colon at the Gemelli hospital in Rome. The Vatican has maintained an official silence on the pontiff’s condition, only notifying the media at the last moment before schedule changes and providing no updates on treatments.
Francis has struggled with sciatic pain for several years, but it has worsened as he ages. Starting in January 2022, the pope has sat at public events and ceremonies, apologizing to his audiences for not standing due to the pain in his right leg and knee. On his papal trip to Malta in April, the pope used a lift to descend the plane steps instead of walking down them, and a special lift was built into the Grotto of St. Paul to allow his visit to the holy site.
In May, Francis began using a wheelchair and started a series of injections to lessen the pain in his leg.
His physical maladies have given rise to speculation that Francis’ health is worsening rapidly or that he plans to retire. These rumors have been fed recently by his creation of 21 new cardinals who will bolster his already firm grasp on the election of the next pope and the announcement that he will take part in a series of events at the Vatican meant to cement his legacy in the traditionally sleepy month of August. Benedict XVI retired from the pontificate in 2013, citing his declining health, and continues to live in the Vatican as emeritus pope.