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Isn’t that a kick in the head!

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Pope Francis appears to be getting a boot in the face from a guard, in an optical illusion caused by the angle of the photo, as he brushed aside concerns about his ailing health.

Pope makes his first visit to Muslim-majority Kazakhstan, where he was greeted with an energetic military welcome at the presidential palace of the former Soviet republic.

The Argentine pope, who has been forced to use a wheelchair by knee pain and has admitted he needs to slow down or retire, will attend an interfaith summit in the capital Nur-Sultan.

His plane landed shortly after 5:15 PM (1115 GMT), and the 85-year-old pope was greeted by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev before addressing authorities and the diplomatic corps.

Pope Francis appears to have been kicked in the face by a guard as he brushed aside concerns about his ailing health

The 85-year-old pope was greeted by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev before addressing authorities and diplomatic corps

Pope, who has been forced to use a wheelchair by knee pain and has admitted he needs to slow down or retire, will attend an interfaith summit in the capital Nur-Sultan

Pope, who has been forced to use a wheelchair by knee pain and has admitted he needs to slow down or retire, will attend an interfaith summit in the capital Nur-Sultan

Regards Francis, Tokayev said the visit was a “great honor”.

Francis said 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, peace that our world longs for.”

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, was initially expected but withdrew from the September 14-15 event, shattering hopes of a meeting with Francis over the conflict in Ukraine.

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”.

About 100 delegations from 50 countries are expected to participate in the event in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic that gained independence in 1991.

“Dialogue, coming together, seeking peace between different religious and cultural worlds are at the heart of this journey,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said Monday.

Tokayev, 69, is an ally of Russia, although there have been tensions between the two countries since Moscow launched the invasion in February.

He has refused to support the war and the presence of a large Russian community in northern Kazakhstan has raised fears of a revival of Moscow’s imperial ambitions in the area.

Kazakhstan borders other former Soviet republics, as well as China and the Caspian Sea.

Tokayev, 69, is an ally of Russia, though there have been tensions between the two countries since Moscow launched the invasion in February

Pope Francis is helped in a wheelchair to board a plane to Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan

Pope Francis is helped in a wheelchair to board a plane to Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan

Francis said on Sunday that the 38th trip abroad since his election in 2013 would be

Francis said 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 our world thirsts for.”

Lyudmila, a 74-year-old retiree who refused to give her last name, said she hoped the papal visit would encourage people around the world to learn more about Kazakhstan.

“Maybe it will raise awareness of our country that such a great spiritual figure visits us,” she told AFP.

On Wednesday, Francis will address the opening of the plenary session of the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, before celebrating an afternoon Mass and ending his journey Thursday by meeting Catholic leaders.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will be in the country at the same time as Francis at a time when the Vatican hopes to renew a historic agreement appointing bishops in China.

Asked by in-flight journalists about a possible meeting with Xi, Francis said he had “no information” about possible talks.

However, he added that he was “always ready to go to China.”

Energy-rich Kazakhstan has 19 million inhabitants, of whom 70 percent are Sunni Muslims and 26 percent are Christians – mostly Russian Orthodox. Less than one percent are Catholic.

Tokayev embarked on a series of reforms after his election in 2019, but the country was rocked earlier this year by protests over fuel prices, which killed more than 200 people and tarnished its image of stability.

Francis is the second pope to visit Kazakhstan after John Paul II’s trip in September 2001.

He said last week that doctors had temporarily banned him from traveling to Ukraine or Moscow as he is recovering from a knee problem that has forced him to cancel numerous events at the Vatican.

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