Pope Francis has called off a visit to Africa because of knee problems, the Vatican said on Friday.
The cancellation raised questions about the health and mobility of the pontiff.
The Vatican said the July 2 to 7 trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan would be rescheduled “to a later date to be determined”, AP reported.
The visit had sought to promote peace in two African countries long wrestling with deadly violence.
“At the request of his doctors, and in order not to jeopardise the results of the therapy that he is undergoing for his knee, the Holy Father has been forced to postpone, with regret, his Apostolic Journey to the Democratic Republic of Congo and to South Sudan,” the Vatican said.
Pope Francis, 85, has been using a wheelchair for a month because of strained ligaments in his right knee that have made walking and standing difficult and painful.
He has refused to have surgery, and has instead taken injections, kept the knee as immobile as possible and walked with a cane or the help of an aide.
Questions had swirled for months about the Pope’s ability to negotiate the Africa journey, which would have been taxing for him even without the knee problems. Yet as recently as this week, plans were proceeding.
Pope Francis also has a July 24 to 30 visit to Canada scheduled. The Vatican said nothing about that trip.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni would only say the Pope’s other commitments were confirmed.
Pope Francis was scheduled to visit South Sudan with Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, to make an ecumenical appeal for peace.
Such a trip had been discussed as early as 2017, when South Sudan was still in the grip of civil war, but security concerns repeatedly forced postponement it.
The DRC government said it wished Pope Francis a prompt recovery.
In the city of Goma, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where he had been scheduled to spend July 4 despite a new wave of violence, thousands of posters with his image had been put up to advertise the visit.
The Hotel New Grand Lac had already booked rooms for people.
The spokesman for the papal trip in Canada said planning for the trip continued.
The Pope is scheduled to personally apologise to Indigenous peoples in Canada for abuses at residential schools.
“Great care is being taken to provide significant periods of rest for the Holy Father, and also to ensure his participation at events is for a limited period of time,” Neil MacCarthy, press secretary to Cardinal Thomas Collins of the Archdiocese of Toronto, told AP.
“We continue to pray for the health of Pope Francis and that he will be able to join us in Canada next month.”
A Canadian official said organisers were in Rome this week to plan for Pope Francis’ visit and reported no signals about a possible cancellation.