The Vatican announced that Pope Francis will not be visiting Israel in June. Though the visit was not officially announced, a tour of the region had been planned and reported to the media. The tour would have included a visit to Lebanon on June 12-13 and Jordan on the morning of June 14, after which he would have visited Jerusalem. After visiting Jerusalem, the pontiff was scheduled to return to Rome.
The Jerusalem visit was supposed to have included a meeting with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, who backed Moscow’s Ukraine invasion. The Pope has conveyed a message to the Russian government that he would go to Moscow personally to try to convince President Vladimir Putin to stop his war on Ukraine, but the Kremlin had yet to respond. Pope Francis has stated that he would not go to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Vlodomyr Zelensky.
The cancellation was attributed to health issues. The 85-year-old pontiff has been suffering acute pain in his right knee due to inflamed ligaments diagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis, or osteoarthritis. While boarding a plane in Malta last month, Pope Francis resorted to using a special elevator instead of using the stairs and used a wheelchair for the first time at a public event on Thursday. Recently, he’s made a point of remaining seated during all his public events.
A political source told Hebrew-language Israel HaYom newspaper that the wave of terrorist attacks in Israel influenced the decision to cancel the Jerusalem visit. Since mid-March, 18 Israelis have been killed in attacks perpetrated by Palestinians.
Though Pope Francis openly admits he does not like to travel, he has visited 56 countries in the last nine years. He is scheduled to visit the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan in July and Canada later this year.
Pope Francis first visited Israel in 2014. The cave under the Church of the Nativity caught fire the night after his visit.
In May 2015, Francis welcomed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the Vatican. The Pope praised Abbas as “an angel of peace,” saying, “The angel of peace destroys the evil spirit of war. I thought about you: may you be an angel of peace.” The Vatican signed a treaty recognizing the state of Palestine.
While the Pope has acknowledged that “denying Israel’s right to exist is anti-Semitic,” he is a vocal supporter of a “two-state solution” that would create an unprecedented militarized Palestinian entity inside the borders of Israel that would be ethnically cleansed of Jews and with its exclusively Muslim capital in Jerusalem.