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Pope’s Health, Sex Abuse Victims Discussed at Saturday Press Conference

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Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ also explains the papal “Fiat”

PHILADELPHIA — Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families may be the last stage of his apostolic journey to the United States but it is the first in his intention, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told reporters at a midday press conference on Saturday.

In fact, the Pope’s decision to journey to the US was based on his desire to attend the World Meeting of Families, Lombardi said.

Several topics were addressed in addition to the Pope’s attendance at the WMOF Festival of Families, including the Pope’s his health, his car, and the question of whether he will meet with victims of sexual abuse during his two day visit to Philadelphia.

The pope’s health

After two apparent falls as he climbed the stairs to board the papal plane, questioned arose the Pope’s health. Fr. Lombardi said that “the very beginning, the Pope has shown that he has some problem in walking and especially with stairs.”

Fr. Lombardi added that the Pope “tries to cope with this situation and also has regular physiotherapy.” He said that that “some days are days that are better, and some days that are worse” adding that “obviously a trip like this is very engaging and it’s understandable if he’s physically tired.”

The papal “fiat”

Regarding Francis’ decision to opt for a small Ford Fiat rather than the white bullet-proof popemobile people have grown accustomed to, Fr. Lombardi said it is based on his desire to be close to the people.

“We know that, from the very beginning of his pontificate, the Pope has not wanted to used the armed popemobile, because he felt it was not helping his direct communication with the people. Therefore he has always chosen to use an open car.”

The Vatican spokesman said the Pope has also wanted to use small cars, economic cars, “in order to be like people who are not very rich,” a choice that admittedly creates a striking visual in the US where he’s been surrounded by a large SUV motorcade, Lombardi noted.

Will the pope meet with victims of sexual abuse?

At today’s press conference, journalists also asked whether the Pope met with any victims of clergy sexual abuse, as Benedict had done.

Fr. Lombardi responded by explaining how such meetings are arranged given their delicate and important nature.

“These meetings are not publicized given the very nature of these meetings as a personal encounter between someone who has suffered and the Holy Father,” he said. Therefore, while no one should expect to announce such meetings, the media can be sure that he, as the Vatican spokesman, will provide information should they take place.

Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Alteia’s English edition.

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