Amid coronavirus pandemic, Pope Francis’ Malta trip postponed

Vatican City, Mar 23, 2020 / 04:33 am (CNA).- The Vatican stated Monday that Pope Francis’ trip to the islands of Malta and Gozo May 31 has been postponed to a yet to be decided future date.

Papal spokesman Matteo Bruni said March 23 “the announced apostolic journey to Malta has been postponed to a date to be defined.”

The decision was made “due to the current world situation and in agreement with the authorities and the local Church.”

The bishops of Malta and Gozo affirmed the same message in a brief statement on the website of the Archdiocese of Malta March 23, adding that they “would like to take this opportunity to invite Catholics to keep Pope Francis in prayer.”

The one-day trip to Malta and Gozo was the only international journey officially on the pope’s calendar for 2020.

The theme of the trip was taken from chapter 28 of the book of Acts, “They showed us unusual kindness,” and was expected to focus on welcome to migrants.

Pope Francis was also expected to visit Indonesia, East Timor, and Papua New Guinea in September, though officials in Indonesia have said the trip will no longer take place as scheduled.

The trip was not officially announced by the Vatican, but Sheikh Yahya Cholil Staquf told CNA in January the pope planned to visit the three southeast Asian and Oceania countries in 2020.

A member of the Indonesia presidential unit promoting communal tolerance, Fr. Antonius Benny Susetyo, told UCA News March 15 “the cancellation is understandable because now the whole world is fighting COVID-19 and it will remain a serious threat over the next few months.”

Susetyo also said he hoped the Vatican would reschedule the pope’s visit for next year “because his visit is very important for Indonesia.”

The AP reported that Mons. Marco Sprizzi, chargé d’affaires of the apostolic nunciature in East Timor, told reporters in Dili March 11 Pope Francis canceled his visit to the country because of concerns over large crowds.

“He did not want his people affected by the coronavirus,” Sprizzi said.

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