Pope Francis arrives to address the Synod of Bishops, focusing on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment, on October 3, 2018 at the Vatican. - AFP PHOTO - Andreas SOLARO
Agence France-Presse

Pope Francis plans to visit Bulgaria and Macedonia from May, the Vatican spokesman, Greg Burke, said on Thursday.

Francis is scheduled to visit Sofia and Rakovski in Bulgaria during May 5-7 and Skopje in Macedonia on May 7, a statement said.

The trip is set to be the pontiff’s fourth foreign trip for 2019.

He is expected to visit Panama, between January 23 and January 27, the United Arab Emirates, from February 3 to Feruary 5 and Morocco between March 30 and March 31.

The Argentinian pontiff, who turns 82 next week, is gearing up for a full schedule in 2019, having already pencilled in a February trip to Abu Dhabi.

That trip will follow hard on the heels of World Youth Day, which the pontiff will attend in Panama in January.

Visiting two Orthodox nations will reinforce the image Francis wishes to project of a pontiff, who is seeking wider dialogue with other branches of Christendom as well as other faiths.

In September, Francis said he hoped to visit Japan in 2019 and a trip to Madagascar has also been mentioned.

In contrast the Vatican has yet to unveil which invitations from Catholic nations will be taken up in 2019.

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