Pope set to make first trip since pandemic to saint's town

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Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FILE - In this Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016 file photo, a moment of the closing event of an inter-religious prayer gathering, in front of the Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi, Italy. The Franciscan friars in Assisi say Pope Francis will journey there next month to sign a new encyclical, expected to stress the value of brotherly relations during and after the pandemic, in what could be his first visit outside of the Rome area since Italy went into lockdown. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, File)

VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis is next month set to make what would be his first visit outside Rome since Italy was put under lockdown in early March when it became the first country in Europe to feel the full brunt of the coronavirus pandemic.

The pope is to journey to Assisi, the birthplace in the central Italian region of Umbria of his namesake saint, to sign an authoritative papal letter to clergy and faithful worldwide — a document known as an encyclical, the Vatican said Saturday.

The encyclical is expected to stress the value of brotherly relations during and after the pandemic, a theme Francis evoked repeatedly during the pandemic. Encyclicals lay out a pontiff’s views on important issues and usually shape Catholic teaching and policy in the years to come.

“Because of the health situation, it's the desire of the Holy Father that the visit be carried out privately, without any participation by the faithful," a reference to rank-and-file Catholics, the Vatican said.

The encyclical will be entitled in Italian “'Fratelli tutti' sulla fraternita' e l'amicizia sociale.” The English-language version's title wasn't given, but it roughly translates to “'Brothers all' on brotherhood and social friendship.”

“Brothers all,” is a saying of St. Francis that the pope has cited in the past.

Francis has repeatedly stressed how the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically revealed how fragile existence can be and how vitally important it is for people to unite in helping each other, with special attention to the poor.

Francis' last trip away from Rome was to the southern Italian city of Bari, in late February of this year, just as the COVID-19 outbreak was erupting in northern Italy.