Vatican City, Jan 5, 2022 / 13:00 pm (CNA).
As the new year begins amid a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in many parts of the world, Pope Francis has no official international trips confirmed for 2022. But he has expressed an interest in visiting several countries in the new year.
At the age of 85, however, it is unlikely that the pope will resume the grueling travel schedule that characterized his pre-pandemic papacy.
Pope Francis has already traveled to more than 50 countries during his almost nine-year pontificate, 11 of which he visited in 2019.
After the outbreak of COVID-19 put his papal travel schedule on hold for more than a year, Francis made history as the first pope to visit Iraq when he resumed international travel in March 2021.
However, there are still some canceled papal trips originally planned for 2020 that could be rescheduled for this year.
The following are places Pope Francis has expressed interest in visiting at some point during his pontificate.
The Vatican announced last fall that Pope Francis is willing to visit Canada as part of the local Catholic bishops’ “pastoral process of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.”
This potential papal trip to North America will likely occur sometime after the pope receives a delegation of Indigenous leaders from Canada at the Vatican. Their visit was originally scheduled for December 2021 but rescheduled for “the earliest opportunity in 2022” due to concerns about the omicron variant.
Papua New Guinea and East Timor
In an interview with Télam, Argentina’s national news agency, published last October, Pope Francis said that he would like to make trips to Papua New Guinea and East Timor, which had been planned for late 2020 before they were canceled because of the pandemic.
The canceled 2020 trip (never confirmed by the Vatican) was also expected to include a visit to Indonesia. Vatican sources have told ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian-language news partner, that a papal stop in Singapore could also be added on to the Oceania trip.
Both Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and Archbishop Mieczysław Mokrzycki, the Latin Rite archbishop of Lviv, western Ukraine, have made it known that the pope promised them a visit in 2022.
Nothing has been confirmed, but the trip could take place in May, according to ACI Stampa. Shevchuk said in December that “this has not yet been announced, but we are already living in anticipation and preparation.”
On his return flight from Iraq, Pope Francis reaffirmed his desire to visit Lebanon. A few months later, a Vatican official said that the pope intended to travel to Lebanon once it successfully formed a government.
The formation of a Lebanese government last September after 13 months of political stalemate therefore paved the way for a potential papal visit. Pope Francis met with Prime Minister Najib Mikati, the new leader of the country in crisis, on Nov. 25, but no further details about a papal trip to the country have been released yet.
Pope Francis has repeatedly said that he plans to go back to Hungary after his visit to Budapest in 2021 lasted for only seven hours.
The apostolic journey to Hungary is expected to take place in September, according to ACI Stampa, which has reported that the pope has already told the abbot of Pannonhalma Archabbey that he intends to visit the 1,000-year-old Benedictine abbey.
Hungary could also serve as a potential neutral meeting point for a papal meeting with Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, ACI Stampa reported.
Kazakhstan is another country that could serve as a location for the second meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill. There is already an interreligious meeting scheduled to take place on Sept. 14-15, 2022. The Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, in which Kirill is expected to participate, will be held in the capital of Kazakhstan, Nur-Sultan.
The ambassador of Kazakhstan to the Holy See told EWTN in 2020 that there were “high hopes” that Pope Francis would visit Kazakhstan to take part in the interreligious congress.
The pope could visit Santiago de Compostela as the Spanish pilgrimage site, the end of the famed Camino de Santiago, continues to celebrate a Holy Year throughout 2022. Benedict XVI visited Santiago de Compostela during its last Holy Year in 2010.
Archbishop Julián Barrio Barrio of Santiago de Compostela told journalists in December that he believes that “the pope is interested in coming to Santiago,” but it may not be possible due to the pandemic, according to Rome Reports.
The Vatican had announced in February 2020 that Pope Francis would visit Malta for the feast of Pentecost before the Mediterranean island nation went into lockdown and the trip was canceled. The visit could be rescheduled for sometime after Easter, according to ACI Stampa.
A papal trip to the Balkan country of Montenegro was also planned for 2020 and canceled. The Montenegrin Deputy Prime Minister Dritan Abazović traveled to the Vatican and reinvited the pope to visit Montenegro at the end of the general audience on Dec. 29.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Pope Francis said in an interview published this fall that he hoped to visit the Congo in 2022. He told Télam in October: “For the moment I have in my mind two trips that I have not started yet, and those are the Congo and Hungary.”
This would be the pope’s first visit to the African continent since 2019. According to ACI Stampa, the potential trip to the DRC could be a stop during a long-awaited papal trip to neighboring South Sudan, which has been postponed repeatedly due to security concerns.
The only officially confirmed papal trip for 2022 so far is that Pope Francis will travel north to the Italian city of Florence on Feb. 27 to speak at a meeting of bishops and mayors of the Mediterranean region.
Given the pope’s age and ongoing pandemic situation, perhaps there will be more shorter trips like this in the new year.