Pope Cancels Trip to Dubai for UN Climate Conference on Doctors’ Orders While Recovering from Flu

AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, File
Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square, at the Vatican, Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023.

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis canceled his trip to Dubai for the U.N. climate conference on doctors’ orders Tuesday, even though he is recovering from the flu and lung inflammation, the Vatican said.

Francis, who turns 87 next month, was scheduled to leave Rome on Friday to address the COP28 meeting first thing Saturday morning. He also was supposed to inaugurate a faith pavilion Sunday on the sidelines of the conference before returning home.

The pope revealed Sunday that he had lung inflammation but said at the time that he still planned to go to Dubai, where he was to become the first pontiff to address a U.N. climate conference. Care for the environment has been a priority for Francis, and presidents and patriarchs alike have welcomed his moral leadership on the issue.

Until the announcement late Tuesday, all of the information from the Vatican indicated the trip would proceed. The Vatican spokesman held his traditional pre-trip briefing earlier in the day and fielded questions about Francis’ planned bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the Dubai conference. The Vatican travel agency accepted payment for journalists to fly on the papal plane, and the Vatican press office finalized accreditation details.

The announcement marked the second time the pope’s frail health had forced the cancellation of a foreign trip: He had to postpone a planned trip to Congo and South Sudan in 2022 because of knee inflammation, though he was able to make the journey earlier this year.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said Francis was improving from the flu and inflammation of his respiratory tract that had forced him to cancel his audiences Saturday. But “the doctors have asked the pope not to make the trip planned for the coming days to Dubai.

“Pope Francis accepted the doctors’ request with great regret and the trip is therefore canceled,” he added.

Francis had part of one lung removed as a young man and has seemed increasingly prone to respiratory problems. He has also had mobility problems from strained knee ligaments that have required him to use a cane or wheelchair.

Francis came down with the flu late last week. After cancelling his audiences Saturday — including with the visiting leader of Guinea Bissau — he went to the hospital for a CAT scan, and the Vatican said the test had ruled out pneumonia.

On Sunday, he skipped his traditional appearance at his studio window overlooking St. Peter’s Square to avoid the cold. Instead, Francis gave the traditional noon blessing in a televised appearance from the chapel in the Vatican hotel where he lives and asked a priest to read his written daily reflections out loud.

He coughed and spoke in a whisper, and sported the cannula in which he was receiving antibiotics intravenously. Recruiting a substitute speaker was a first for this pope and recalled how St. John Paul II frequently had other prelates read his remarks in his final years as he battled the effects of Parkinson’s disease.

People who saw Francis this week said his health was improving but he still spoke in a whisper.

In April, the pope spent three days at Rome’s Gemelli hospital for what the Vatican said was bronchitis after he had trouble breathing. He was discharged after receiving intravenous antibiotics.

Francis spent 10 days at the same hospital in July 2021 following intestinal surgery for a bowel narrowing. He was readmitted in June of this year for an operation to repair an abdominal hernia and remove scarring from previous surgeries.

When asked about his health in a recent interview, Francis quipped in reply what has become his standard line — “Still alive!”