Pope Francis expected to visit S'pore in Sept, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Pope Francis expected to visit S'pore in Sept

Singapore is in talks with the Vatican about a proposed visit by Pope Francis, which is expected to happen in September.

“Singapore welcomes a visit by Pope Francis,” a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said on April 2 in response to queries from The Straits Times.

The last papal visit was almost 40 years ago, when the late Pope John Paul II drew thousands of Roman Catholics during a brief stopover in 1986.

The Pope’s planned visit was announced by the de facto Vatican foreign minister, Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher, in an interview with the America magazine on March 26.

America is a monthly Catholic magazine founded in 1909 and published by the Jesuits of the US.

Early reports of an Asia-Pacific tour first appeared in January in two Catholic media outlets – America and EWTN Vatican. The latter, in an article outlining the Pope’s agenda for 2024, reported that “plans are under way” for a 10-day visit to Indonesia, Singapore, Timor-Leste and Papua New Guinea.

The tour, which was earlier scheduled for August, will mark only the second papal visit to Singapore. When Pope John Paul II visited, he stayed just five hours in the country.

If health permits, Pope Francis, 87, is expected to spend at least a day in Singapore. A possible visit to Vietnam is also under consideration, the America magazine report added.

In January 2022, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong was granted a brief audience with Pope Francis during a working visit to the Vatican City. His visit was to reaffirm bilateral ties with the city-state and came a month after the Roman Catholic Church marked its 200th anniversary in Singapore.

On March 31, Indonesian Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas confirmed that Pope Francis would visit Indonesia on Sept 3. Outgoing Indonesian President Joko Widodo reportedly invited the pontiff to visit Indonesia – which has the world’s largest Muslim population, numbering about 242 million – in June 2022, as part of efforts to promote religious tolerance.

However, the Pope’s ailing health has cast a pall on his Asia-Pacific travel plans. On March 29, he withdrew abruptly from the Good Friday procession at Rome’s Colosseum. The last-minute decision was an attempt “to preserve his health” ahead of his Easter obligations, said the Vatican.

He presided at the Easter Vigil service on March 30, and on Easter Sunday, March 31, read his twice-annual Urbi et Orbi message and gave blessings from the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica to a crowd of several thousand. Urbi et Orbi means to the city and world in Latin.

There are about 395,000 Roman Catholics in Singapore, according to the 2020 census.

In 1986, Pope John Paul II knelt and kissed the tarmac when he touched down at Changi Airport – a traditional gesture marking the start of a state visit.

Then Singapore Archbishop Gregory Yong and then Vatican Ambassador to Singapore, Archbishop Renato Martino, as well as then Communications Minister Yeo Ning Hong boarded the plane to receive him.

After meeting then President Wee Kim Wee and then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew at the Istana, he presided over a mass attended by about 70,000 people at the former National Stadium.