Four trips abroad, four stops in Italy, and two cancelled trips. Despite his health issues, Pope Francis has traveled all over the world this year.
Pope Francis’ advancing age and compromised mobility did not prevent him from traveling around Italy and the world this year. The Argentinian Pontiff traveled to 4 countries – Malta, Canada, Kazakhstan and Bahrain – and 4 Italian cities – L’Aquila, Assisi, Matera and Asti.
However, there were also two trips abroad that did not happen in 2022: one to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, which had been officially announced before it was cancelled, and the other to Lebanon and Jerusalem, which was being studied and prepared.
Malta, April 2-3: Welcoming migrants while retracing the steps of St. Paul
For his first trip of 2022 Pope Francis went to the Mediterranean island of Malta. This journey had been initially planned for May 31, 2020, but was postponed due to the pandemic.
During this trip the Pontiff retraced the steps of St. Paul. In the year 60 the Apostle ended up on the shores of this island, along with more than 270 other people, after the boat they were traveling on was wrecked in a storm. The Acts of the Apostles, which recounts this event, describes the natives of the island as showing “extraordinary hospitality.”
It was with this context and legacy in mind that Pope Francis addressed the issue of migration, as this small island finds itself at the center of the dangerous sea routes taken by many trying to reach Europe. When he visited the Grotto of St. Paul, where the Apostle would have taken refuge after the shipwreck, Pope Francis called to “light the fire of welcome” for migrants. During this short trip he in fact also visited around 200 migrants which were hosted in the John XXIII Peace Lab in the southern part of the island.
Canada, July 24-30: A penitential pilgrimage
In late July, Pope Francis made a historic and long-awaited trip to Canada. This “penitential pilgrimage,” as the Pontiff himself described it, was part of a process of reconciliation initiated by Indigenous peoples and the local Catholic Church, over the trauma inflicted on these populations due to the residential school system. These were state-sponsored places of forced cultural assimilation of young Indigenous generations in the 19th and 20th centuries, where many abuses were perpetrated. In March three delegations of Indigenous peoples had come to the Vatican to plead their case and prepare for this trip.
The head of the Catholic Church began his trip in Maskwacis, close to the city of Edmonton (Alberta), where he visited the site of one of the largest residential schools in the country. There, during his first speech, he apologized for the Church’s role in the abuses committed against the Indigenous populations.
In Edmonton he also celebrated two Masses, one of them notably in the Indigenous parish, Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples. Additionally, the Pontiff visited an important Catholic and indigenous pilgrimage site, Lac Saint Anne.
During his trip to Canada, Pope Francis also visited Quebec, the first Catholic diocese in the New World north of Mexico, and the Inuit people south of the Arctic Circle in the far northern city of Iqaluit, Nunavut.
Kazakhstan, September 13-15: Continuing to pursue interreligious dialogue
From September 13 to 15, Pope Francis visited the central Asian country of Kazakhstan to attend the VII Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. Held in the capital city, Astana, this annual event organized by the Kazakh government is supposed to promote and foster interreligious dialogue.
In fact, the Pontiff, who was attending for the first time, met the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, and the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, David Lau. Despite rumors that the Russian Orthodox Patriarch, Kirill, could have attended the event, he ultimately did not. In the tense context of the war in Ukraine, the pope was only able to speak to the Patriarch’s representative, Metropolitan Anthony Volokolamsk, Chairman of the Department of Foreign Ecclesiastical Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate.
The Pope took the opportunity of the trip to Kazakhstan to strongly call for peace in the world and denounced “pseudo-religious terrorism, extremism, radicalism and nationalism, dressed up in religious garb.” At the end of the Congress the religious leaders signed a Declaration, which was then sent to the United Nations’ General Assembly, calling for peace and fraternity.
Bahrain, November 4-6: Another step forward in the Pope’s dialogue with Islam
A little under two months after his trip to Kazakhstan, the Pope went to the Persian Gulf country Bahrain from November 4-6, for another interreligious meeting: the Bahrain Forum for Dialogue.
During this event the Pope met again with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and also with the Muslim Council of Elders, composed of representatives from various branches of Islam. This second trip to the Arabian Peninsula for a pope comes after the groundwork laid in 2019, when the Pontiff signed the Document on Human Fraternity with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Abu Dhabi.
During his stay, Pope Francis also called for peace in Ukraine, Ethiopia, and Yemen. In addition he underlined the importance of respecting human rights, as Bahrain had been criticized in the weeks leading up to the trip due to its mistreatment of the country’s Shiite Mulsim population, as well as for the use of the death penalty.
The trips that did not happen in 2022
As announced in March, Pope Francis was supposed to go to South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from July 2-7. In June, less than a month before the journey, the Holy See Press Office announced the trip was postponed to a later date. The official reason given for the cancellation was the health problems of the 85-year-old pope, who is in chronic pain from a knee injury. However, the extremely tense security situation in the eastern DRC certainly encouraged the organizers to postpone the trip.
The trip was eventually rescheduled for January 31 to February 5, 2023. Yet, the Pontiff will not visit the region of Goma, as was previously planned.
Another trip that did not occur was to Lebanon in June. Although it was never officially announced, the Holy See acknowledged that it was being studied as an option. The Lebanese Presidency had even announced it in a tweet published in April.
Additionally, press agency Reuters had reported that the Vatican was considering extending the Pope’s trip to Lebanon to allow him to stop in Jerusalem and meet the Russian Orthodox Patriarch, Kirill. However, the context of the war in Ukraine and the tensions between the Russian Patriarchate and Rome prevented the realization of this project.
The local trips : L’Aquila, Assisi, Matera and Asti
In 2022 Pope Francis also visited several cities dotted across the Italian peninsula. His first stop was in L’Aquila, in the Abruzzo region, on August 28. There he opened the Holy Door of the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio, where Pope Celestine V is buried, marking the beginning of the annual popular celebration of the Celestinian Forgiveness. Pope Francis’ movements were particularly scrutinized by observers, as Celestine V was the last pope to voluntarily renounce before Benedict XVI — who had also visited Celestine V’s tomb in 2009.
During this short trip the pope also paid homage to the victims of the 2009 earthquake that resulted in around 300 deaths and left 65,000 people homeless.
A little over a month later, on September 24, Pope Francis went to Assisi, in the region of Umbria. There he was warmly welcomed by young people participating in The Economy of Francesco, a meeting to reflect on how to create economy at the service of people, in line with the encyclical Laudato si’.
The following day, Pope Francis went to Matera in the southern Italian region of Basilicata, to attend the 27th Italian Eucaristic Congress.
Then on November 19-20, the Argentinian Pontiff went to the city of Asti in the Piedmont region, where his family originates from, for an unusual private visit to a cousin for her 90th birthday.