ROME (AP) — Congo’s Catholic bishops, coping with disappointment over a scrubbed visit by Pope Francis, said Saturday that his decision to go ahead with a trip to Canada was an “encouraging sign” that his knee treatment was working, as they held out hope for a rescheduled date.
In the meantime, Francis is sending the Vatican secretary of state to Congo to celebrate a special Mass for peace and reconciliation next weekend, when Francis was due to have arrived, said Bishop Donatien Nshole, secretary general of the Congolese bishops conference.
Nshole stressed that Cardinal Pietro Parolin wasn't replacing Francis and that Congo was awaiting word from the Vatican for a new date for a papal visit. But in a video statement, he said Parolin’s visit was further sign of the “great consideration he (Francis) has for our country.”
The Vatican announced June 10 that Francis had to postpone the planned July 2-7 visit to Congo and South Sudan because doctors said it could jeopardize the therapy he is receiving for strained ligaments in his right knee. The problem has forced him to use a wheelchair for over a month, and he uses a cane when walking or standing.
At the same time, the Vatican on Thursday indicated Francis was going ahead with a planned July 24-30 visit to Canada by releasing the trip itinerary. The Vatican hasn’t said why the Canada visit could go ahead but not the Africa one.
“For us, this is an encouraging sign of the positive evolution of the care he is taking,” Nshole said. “Without a doubt, the trip to Canada will also be a test for the pope and his doctors of the effectiveness of his care and will serve as an evaluation for the future and the activities of the pontiff.”
Nshole said Parolin will celebrate the Mass in Kinshasa on July 3, on the same day that similar Masses are held across Congo and Francis celebrates a special Mass for Rome’s Congoloese community at the Vatican.
Krista Larson contributed from Dakar, Senegal.