The 85-year-old Pontiff is on his 39th international papal trip.
On the plane from Rome to Bahrain this November 3, Pope Francis told reporters on board that he was in “a lot of pain,” in reference to his knee. At 85 years of age, Pope Francis has begun his 39th international papal trip with this four-day visit to the Kingdom of Bahrain.
After a little more than an hour of flight, as he has become accustomed since the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis was keen to greet the journalists accompanying him. However standing up, he told the group that he was “in a lot of pain” and that he could not move along the aisle as he usually does to shake hands with the 68 journalists on board the aircraft.
Instead, he invited the reporters to come to him; a first since his election in 2013. Sitting on a seat, the head of the Catholic Church thus greeted the journalists one by one. He explained to one of them that he was in pain because of a physical therapy session the day before.
The Pontiff is always accompanied by his personal health assistant, the nurse Massimiliano Strappetti, when he travels.
A painful knee for almost a year
On February 25, the Pope cancelled a trip to Florence, and the Holy See explained that he was suffering from acute gonalgia – an inflammation of the knee.
The Pope had already cancelled events before due to the sciatica pain he’s endured for years, but the knee issue has caused more difficulties. The Pontiff used a wheelchair for his trips to Canada and Kazakhstan. At one point, he explained his knee had sustained a fracture.
In recent weeks though, the Pope seems to have regained some of his mobility, walking regularly with just the help of a cane. However, he once again used his wheelchair while praying at St. Mary Major on the eve of his departure for this trip.
Before leaving St. Martha’s Residence in the Vatican for the airport, the Pontiff met with three Ukrainian refugee families who are hosted by Italian families, reported the Vatican press office.
The group was made up of three mothers accompanied by their children. The husband of one of them, originally from the Kropyvnytskyi region, is an Orthodox priest and remained in Ukraine with his adult son.
Pope Francis said he was coming to Bahrain as a “sower of peace” in his first speech to the country’s authorities at the al-Sakhir Palace. Strongly condemning the war in Yemen, a conflict in which Shiite and Sunni powers are clashing, Pope Francis also pleaded for the respect of human rights while the Kingdom of Bahrain is under fire from NGOs that accuse the Sunni regime of discriminating against the Shiite population. Referring to the environmental crisis, Pope Francis also called for the dignity of workers in this region of the world where millions of foreigners are employed.
The Pope will give six speeches during the four-day trip.
This is the first time that a pope sets foot in this small Persian Gulf state located between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. This 39th trip abroad for Pope Francis is placed under the sign of dialogue with Islam and the search for peace. The 85-year-old pontiff will also meet the country’s small Catholic community.
In addition to Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, four other cardinals are accompanying the Pope to Bahrain: Luis Antonio Tagle, prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Dicastery for Eastern Churches, Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the Dicastery for Christian Unity, and Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, prefect of the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue.