Pope Francis will visit Kazakhstan as planned in September to attend an interfaith conference in the Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan, the Vatican confirmed on Monday.
The announcement of the trip comes two days after the pontiff revealed he would ease his international schedule, as the 85-year-old has been suffering from knee pain. It forced Pope Francis to cancel a string of events in recent months, including a trip to Africa.
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“Accepting the invitation of the civil and ecclesial authorities, Pope Francis will make the announced Apostolic Journey to Kazakhstan from September 13 to 15,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni wrote in a statement.
Pope Francis could meet with the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, as he has said he would attend.
Patriarch Kirill has justified Moscow’s war in Ukraine on spiritual and ideological grounds, calling it a “metaphysical” battle with the West.
Francis called off a planned encounter with Kirill in June in Jerusalem because of the diplomatic fallout it would have created.
Kirill has blessed Russian soldiers going into battle and invoked the idea that Russians and Ukrainians are one people.
Francis and Kirill, who had a first historic encounter in Havana, Cuba in 2016, have spoken by video call at least once since the invasion of Ukraine began.
Pope Francis returned Saturday from a six-day visit to Canada, where he called the treatment of Indigenous people in Canadian residential schools “genocide”.
He admitted it was time to slow his pace of international travel and said he may have to think about retiring – but not yet.
Francis was elected in 2013 after Pope Benedict XVI became the first pontiff since the Middle Ages to retire, citing his declining physical and mental health.