A Vatican diplomat in Timor-Leste confirmed this week that Pope Francis will be visiting the country, but said the dates are not yet set.
“We only confirm Pope Francis’ decision to make his visit to Timor-Leste. I also met with him and I confirm his decision,” said Monsignor Marco Sprizzi, chargé d’affaires of the nunciature in Dili.
The Vatican envoy made the announcement in response to questions from reporters following a meeting with Fidelis Manuel Leite Magalhaes, chairman of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, on March 1.
The news site Tatoli quoted Msgr. Sprizzi saying that the date of the visit cannot be determined yet “due to different international circumstances.”
“However, Pope Francis’ decision is confirmed to visit Timor-Leste,” he said, adding that “the thoughts of the Holy See are with the Timorese people and State.
In a statement released in October last year at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Msgr. Sprizzi said the pope’s visit will only take place “if a large part of the population is vaccinated.”
He said that given that the papal visit always brings together a large number of faithful, causing large gatherings of people, “this visit could endanger the population.”
Magalhaes, meanwhile, said the necessary preparations for the planned papal trip have already been discussed.
In March 2020, Msgr. Sprizzi said Pope Francis was forced to cancel his trip to Timor-Leste over the coronavirus outbreak.
Earlier in January of the same year, a prominent Muslim cleric said Pope Francis had expressed his intention to visit Indonesia, Timor-Leste, and Papua New Guinea in September 2020.
The following month, diplomatic sources reiterated that Pope Francis had sought to visit the three states to help promote inter-faith dialogue.
Timor-Leste gained independence from Indonesia in 1999 following a decades-long rule occupation. The small nation has a population of just under 1.3 million people, 98 percent of whom are Catholic. Pope St. John Paul II visited the country in 1989.
Papua New Guinea, a predominately Christian nation which occupies the eastern half of New Guinea island, is 26 percent Catholic, according to previous census figures. The western half of New Guinea is a part of Indonesia.
Pope St. John Paul II visited Papua New Guinea twice with the first being in 1984 for the centenary of the arrival of the first missionaries in PNG. His next visit was in 1995 for the beatification of Peter To Rot who is believed to have been killed for his faith by Japanese occupation forces during World War II.