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BEIRUT (Reuters) – Pope Francis has postponed a trip to Lebanon originally scheduled for June for health reasons, Lebanese Tourism Minister Walid Nassar said on Monday.
Nassar did not specify the “health reasons” behind the postponement, but the pope who suffered from knee pain was seen in a wheelchair for the first time at a public event on Thursday.
“Lebanon has received a letter from the Vatican officially informing it of the decision to postpone the Pope’s planned visit to Lebanon,” Nassar said in a statement carried by the official National News Agency.
The pope’s “overseas visits and planned appointments…have been postponed for health reasons,” said Nassar, who leads a committee to prepare for the trip.
The Vatican never confirmed the visit, but the Lebanese presidency said in April that the 85-year-old pontiff would visit Lebanon in June.
François has been suffering for months from pain in his right knee which has forced him to cancel many engagements and to preside over certain religious celebrations.
The Vatican has not officially said what the problem was, although sources told AFP that he suffered from chronic arthritis.
The pope himself also spoke of an injured ligament in his knee.
He told Italian daily Corriere della Sera in an interview published last week that he would undergo an “undercover intervention”.
And in April, the pontiff told an Argentinian newspaper that he was treating his knee pain by putting ice on it and taking painkillers.
His visit to Lebanon, following the May 15 Lebanese legislative elections, would have been the third by a pope to the country since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.
Pope Benedict XVI traveled there in 2012 to appeal for peace months after the start of civil war in neighboring Syria, while Pope John Paul II came in 1997.
Lebanon, home to one of the largest Christian communities in the Middle East, has been plagued by an unprecedented economic downturn since 2019, with more than 80% of the population now living in poverty.
Francis, who has received the Lebanese president and prime minister at the Vatican in recent months, had previously promised to visit the country and repeatedly expressed concern over the worsening crisis.