VATICAN CITY – Pope John Paul II will not visit the Philippines early next year, the Vatican said Monday, despite what officials had said was his personal desire to go.
The Vatican had never confirmed the trip, which would have been the pope's third to the predominantly Catholic country. But the announcement that he wouldn't go underscored his increasingly frail health.
As recently as this month, Vatican officials had said the 82-year-old pontiff wanted to attend the World Meeting of Families in Manila on Jan. 22-26.
"The pope's desire to go to the Philippines is well known," Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said Aug. 12 in a bid to counter speculation that the pope would have to slow down because of his health.
However, the Vatican's Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, informed Manila Archbishop Cardinal Jaime Sin about "the sad news," Sin's spokesman, Monsignor Socrates Villages, said Monday.
A Vatican official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed Sodano had sent a letter to Sin informing him of the decision.
"It means now that the pope is not going there," the official said.
When asked why, the official said the decision to avoid such a taxing, long journey was "understandable."
However, the official stressed that it "doesn't mean that the pope is stopping his travels."
Vatican officials have said a trip to Croatia is being planned for next spring.
The pope suffers from hip and knee ailments and the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, including slurred speech and a hand tremor, all of which make it difficult for him to walk.
His frail condition has forced him to scale back participation in Vatican ceremonies, but he also shows surprising stamina on occasion.
The pontiff made two major trips this summer. He went to the World Youth Day festivities in Toronto followed by stops in Guatemala and Mexico. And he returned a week ago from a four-day visit to his Polish homeland.
During the youth day festivities in particular, the pontiff appeared stronger and more vigorous that he has in months.
The pope has named Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, head of the Vatican's office on the family, as his envoy for the meeting in the Philippines.