June 16, 2024

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Pope Francis to visit Belgium, Luxembourg in late September

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Pope Francis will visit Luxembourg and Belgium at the end of September, with stops in Brussels, Leuven, and Louvain-la-Neuve, according to a Vatican statement.

The 87-year-old pope accepted invitations from the Catholic universities of Leuven in Flanders (KU Leuven) and Louvain-la-Neuve in Wallonia (UC Louvain). KU Leuven, founded in 1425, will celebrate its 600th anniversary during the 2024-2025 academic year. Its French-speaking counterpart, UC Louvain, established in francophone Belgium after fierce linguistic disputes in the 1960s, will join in these celebrations.

Pope Francis will visit Luxembourg on September 26 and Belgium from September 26 to 29. The last papal visit to Belgium was in 1995, when St. John Paul II visited Brussels for the beatification of Father Damien, later canonized by the late Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.

Pope Francis’ visit comes at a time of crisis for the Catholic Church in Belgium, where bishops renewed their apologies in December and called for an independent investigation following new testimonies that resurfaced regarding the scandal of children being taken from their mothers with the complicity of nuns for adoption in the last century.

“Grateful for this exceptional visit”

 “The highlight of the visit will be the Eucharistic celebration led by Pope Francis on the morning of Sunday, September 29, in Brussels,” according to the Catholic Church in Belgium’s new website for the occasion. The Vatican said the full schedule will be released at a later date.

In a separate press release, the Catholic Church in Belgium said it “is very grateful to Pope Francis for this exceptional visit. Like many others in Belgium and abroad, the church is very much looking forward to this visit.” 

Archbishop Luc Terlinden of Mechelen-Brussels added: “One must bear in mind that the pope does not frequently visit European countries, especially western European countries. For that reason, we weren’t really expecting the visit to take place. That said, however, I think that Pope Francis had wanted to come to Belgium for a long time. One of the reasons for this is that he got to know a few Belgians in his early years in Argentina. I think it was above all his heart that spoke when taking this decision.”

Marseille, his most recent trip

In recent months, Pope Francis has shown increasingly fragile health, forcing him to cancel several engagements. Since his election in 2013, he has made 44 trips abroad, the most recent to Marseille in September 2023. Now using a wheelchair, he has recently struggled with knee, hip, and colon issues, and has respiratory vulnerabilities.

Despite undergoing major abdominal surgery in 2023, the pope never takes vacations and continues to maintain a hectic schedule, though he has had to make concessions, including canceling his trip to Dubai for COP28 in December due to bronchitis.

His health condition makes his planned tour in the first half of September across Asia and Oceania even more ambitious. This 12-day journey will take him to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor, and Singapore, making it the longest trip of his 11-year pontificate.

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