Pope leads interfaith gathering at Indonesian mosque during longest, most challenging trip



ROME (AP) — Pope Francis will lead an interfaith gathering at a mosque in the world’s largest predominantly Muslim country during a visit to Asia in September that will be the longest and most complicated foreign trip of his pontificate.

The Vatican on Friday announced the itinerary for Francis’ Sept. 2-13 trip to Indonesia, East Timor, Papua New Guinea and Singapore. The packed schedule makes clear that the 87-year-old pope, who has struggled with health problems and is increasingly confined to a wheelchair, has no plans to slow down.

After a day of rest upon arrival in Jakarta on Sept. 3, Francis will begin a typically rigorous round of protocol visits to the heads of state and government of the four countries, speeches to diplomats and meetings with clergy and public masses at each location. In Jakarta, he will lead an interfaith gathering at the capital’s Istiqlal Mosque.

In addition, there are meetings with young people, the poor, the disabled and the elderly, and Francis’ regular meetings with his Jesuit brothers.

The trip was originally planned for 2020, but was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Francis had to cancel his last planned foreign visit — a quick trip to Dubai last year to attend the U.N. climate conference — because of a recurring bout of bronchitis. He has appeared to be in relatively good shape in recent months, including day trips to Italian cities and visits to Roman parishes.

But in recent years his mobility has been limited by bad knee ligaments, so he prefers to stay close to home and keep his trips relatively short.

After returning to Rome in mid-September, he will pay a four-day visit to Belgium before the end of the month. It is the only other foreign trip confirmed for this year.

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