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Pope Francis, 86, cancels visit to COP28 climate conference over health issues

Pope Francis will no longer visit Dubai for the COP28 climate conference, the Vatican has confirmed, citing health issues that have seen the pontiff out of the public eye.

The Catholic leader, who has suffered from a number of health complications in recent years, was due to make a three-day visit to Dubai on Friday to address the conference and inaugurate a faith pavilion.

But the Vatican said the trip could not go ahead on the advice of doctors, after several days in which he has been monitored for what was described as flu symptoms and lung inflammation.

“Although the Holy Father’s general clinical condition has improved with regard to the flu and inflammation of the respiratory tract, doctors have asked the Pope not to make the trip planned for the coming days to Dubai,” the Vatican said.

“Pope Francis accepted the doctors’ request with great regret and the trip is therefore cancelled.”

He was expected to use his speech to criticise countries for a lack of action on climate change – with the Vatican now signalling that he could appear virtually from Rome.

The spokesperson said that the Pope and Holy See still wish “to be part of the discussions taking place in the coming days” and “the modalities by which this can be made concrete will be defined as soon as possible.”

The Pope skipped his weekly appearance in St Peter’s Square last week, instead appearing in a video clip from his home – with an intravenous tube visible in his hand.

The Argentine-born pope, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, had part of a lung removed as a young man and has suffered numerous periods of ill health recently, frequently using a wheelchair or cane.

He spent four days in hospital in March with bronchitis, and two months later underwent abdominal surgery on a hernia.

He was forced to postpone a planned trip to Congo and South Sudan in 2022 because of knee inflammation, though he did eventually make the journey on that occasion.

The pontiff has insisted he will carry on in his role for as long as he is able, despite pressure from some in the church to follow the example of his controversial German-born predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, who stood aside in 2013 citing his advancing years.

Benedict – who had a poor public image over Vatican sleaze scandals and handling of historical sexual abuse – took the title Pope Emeritus in retirement, which he used until his death last year aged 95.

Earlier this year, Francis stressed his belief that popes stepping aside should not become “a fashion, a normal thing” and should only happen in truly exceptional circumstances.

“I believe that the papal ministry should be for life. I don’t see a reason why it should not be this way… historic tradition is important. If instead we listen to gossip, then we would have to change popes every six months,” he said.

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