Pope schedules back-to-back Italy trips after pandemic lull

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis plans to restart his pilgrimages within Italy after a pandemic-induced lull, with the Vatican saying Friday he would make back-to-back September day trips to the hilltop town of Assisi and the southern city of Matera.

Francis is scheduled to participate in a Sept. 24 Assisi conference of young people who have met virtually for the past two years on building a more socially just and equal economy, an initiative dubbed “The Economy of Francis.”

The Vatican said the pope would take a helicopter back to the Vatican that night and fly to Matera the following morning to meet with refugees and to close out a Eucharistic conference of the Italian Catholic Church. The city in southern Basilicata is a popular tourist destination, famous for its cave dwellings.

As bishop of Rome, Francis is technically head of the Italian church. One of his proteges, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi of Bologna, recently became head of the Italian bishops’ conference.

Francis, 85, was grounded during the COVID-19 pandemic and had to scrap a spring visit to Florence and a planned trip this week to Congo and South Sudan because of knee pain that make walking and standing difficult. He now gets around with a cane or wheelchair.

The Vatican has said he is going ahead with plans to visit Canada later this month and has a day trip to the central Italian city of l’Aquila scheduled for late August.

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