Pope Francis who has been previously warned by his medical doctors not to travel to Ukraine has finally arrived in Kazakhstan which is in Central Asia on Tuesday for a three-day visit to further promote dialogue and peace in the ex-Soviet region.
The Argentine pope, who has been besieged by knee pain which has forced him to use a wheelchair also also admitting that he must slow down or consider retirement, will take part in an inter-religious summit in the capital, Nur-Sultan.
His plane landed shortly after 5:15 pm (1115 GMT), an AFP journalist onboard said, and the 85-year-old pontiff was greeted by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev before addressing the authorities and the diplomatic corps.
Greeting Francis, Tokayev said the visit was a “great honour”.
Francis had also noted that on Sunday, that the 38th trip abroad since his election in 2013 would be “an opportunity… to (have a) dialogue as brothers, animated by the common desire for peace, the peace that our world is thirsty for”.
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, was initially expected but has pulled out of the September 14-15 event, dashing hopes of a meeting with Francis over the Ukraine conflict.
While the pope has called for peace and denounced a “cruel and senseless war”, Kirill has defended Putin’s “military operation” and the fight against Russia’s “external and internal enemies”.
It had also been reported that about 100 delegations from over 50 countries are expected to take part in the event in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic that gained independence in 1991.
“Dialogue, a coming together, the search for peace between different religious and cultural worlds are at the heart of this trip,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said Monday.