By Devin Watkins
Pope Francis has a busy schedule planned for 2019. Trips to the United Arab Emirates, Panama, Morocco, Bulgaria, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia start off the year. Add in a February meeting in the Vatican on the Church’s response to the sexual abuse crisis and we’re not even halfway through the year. Then October sees the Pope participate in the Synod of Bishops on the Amazonia.
In January, Pope Francis holds his annual meeting with the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, an occasion he often uses to issue a strong message to the international community. Last year, the Holy Father used the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a springboard to remind the world that many human rights are violated even now in the third millennium, especially the right to life.
WYD in Panama
The Pope kicks off his travels in 2019 on 23-28 January, when he makes an Apostolic Journey to Panama for the 34th edition of World Youth Day. In a video message sent in November, he invited young people to get off the couch and to improve the world through their dreams, ideals, and courage.
United Arab Emirates
February will be particularly busy for the Holy Father.
On 3-5 February, Pope Francis becomes the first Pope to visit the United Arab Emirates. The Journey’s central theme surrounds interreligious dialogue and solidarity amongst members of different faiths. The leaders of the UAE declared 2019 as a “Year of Tolerance” with the goal of promoting a culture free of religious fundamentalism.
Council of Cardinals and Curial reform
On 18-20 February, the 28th meeting of the Council of Cardinals takes place in the Vatican. The focus will be on the revision of the Constitution of the Roman Curia, Pastor Bonus. A new proposal was presented last December to Pope Francis, under the title “Praedicate evangelium”. Its goal is to help the Vatican’s governing body become more responsive to the need of a missionary Church.
February meeting against abuse
Probably the most-awaited papal event of 2019 takes place in the Vatican on 21-24 February. Pope Francis will meet all Presidents of Bishops’ Conferences to discuss how to prevent the abuse of minors and vulnerable adults. It promises to be a pivotal meeting in the fight against sexual abuse, as well as abuse of power and conscience, which are carried out by some members of the Church. Speaking to the Roman Curia in December 2018, Pope Francis said no excuse for following the path of truth and justice will be tolerated.
Journey to Morocco
On 30-31 March, Pope Francis travels to Morocco, 33 years after Pope St. John Paul II’s historic visit on 19 August 1985 to Casablanca. The Pope will continue in his predecessor’s path of promoting mutual comprehension and interreligious dialogue between Christians and Muslims.
Bulgaria & Macedonia
After a short rest in April, the Holy Father heads across the Adriatic Sea to visit Bulgaria and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on 5-7 May. In Bulgaria he will visit the cities of Sofia and Rakovski. Then he travels to the Macedonian city of Skopje, where Mother Teresa of Calcutta, founder of the Missionaries of Charity, was born. Catholics in these two Balkan nations are a tiny minority amidst the Orthodox majority, so promoting ecumenism will be high on the Pope’s to-do list.
Pope’s wish to visit Japan
Though there has been no official confirmation, Pope Francis openly told a group of Japanese visitors to the Vatican that he hopes to travel to Japan in 2019. During the encounter, the Pope recalled that, in 1585, a group of 4 Japanese young people arrived in Rome with several Jesuit missionaries to visit Pope Gregory XIII.
Later in the year, the Synod of Bishops meets in October to discuss the Pan-Amazonia region. The Pope convoked the special assembly on the theme “Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology”. Many themes, not limited to ecology, form the center-of-attention for the 7 Bishops’ Conferences and 9 nations involved.