Pope Francis to travel to Luxembourg and Belgium in September

Queen Mathilde of Belgium meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace with her husband, King Philippe of the Belgians, on Sept. 14, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, May 20, 2024 / 14:06 pm (CNA).

The Vatican announced Monday that Pope Francis will visit Luxembourg and Belgium at the end of September.

The pope will make a one-day stopover in Luxembourg on Sept. 26 before visiting three cities in Belgium to mark the 600th anniversary of the Catholic universities of Leuven and Louvain-la-Neuve from Sept. 26–29.

According to a website launched by the Catholic Church in Belgium, Pope Francis is expected to preside over a Sunday Mass in Brussels on Sept. 29 before heading back to Rome. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the pope’s full schedule will be released at a later date. 

The pope’s European trip comes less than two weeks after he is scheduled to make an ambitious 12-day journey to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor, and Singapore, the longest international trip since he was elected pope 11 years ago.

In total, Pope Francis is planning to visit six countries in the month of September after nearly a year of no international travel. 

The 87-year-old has slowed down his schedule in recent months as health issues have forced him to cancel some public appearances and travels, including a planned trip to Abu Dhabi in December. Francis, who often uses a wheelchair, has not traveled internationally since September 2023, opting instead to make pastoral visits within Italy to the northern cities of Venice and Verona in the first half of 2024.

Pope Francis first expressed his intention to visit Belgium during an interview with the Mexican television network Televisa broadcast in December. 

The Church in Belgium is grappling with a profound fallout from public outrage over the handling of clerical sexual abuse scandals. In March, Pope Francis laicized the bishop emeritus of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, many years after the former prelate admitted to repeatedly sexually abusing his nephews.

A previous archbishop of Brussels, the late Cardinal Godfried Danneels, reportedly called on a victim of Vangheluwe’s abuse to remain silent.

Archbishop Luc Terlinden of Mechelen-Brussels issued an apology to abuse survivors and expressed deep regret over the inclusion of reportedly three perpetrators of sexual abuse on an electoral list for the council of priests earlier this month. 

According to the Church in Belgium’s 2023 annual report, 1,270 Catholics requested for their names to be removed from the baptismal register last year.

The pope received King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium in a formal audience at the  Vatican’s Apostolic Palace last fall. 

Philippe, who ascended the Belgian throne 10 years ago, holds the title “Rex Catholicissimus,” or “(Most) Catholic Majesty,” and the queen is one of only a few women in the world who can wear white, rather than the customary black, when meeting the pope, a papal privilege referred to as the “privilège du blanc.”

The confirmation of the pope’s trip to Belgium makes the possibility of the pope visiting New York at the end of September to address the United Nations less likely.

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