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VENICE: Pope Francis travels to Venice on Sunday for his first trip of the year, testing his mobility and resilience after a number of health scares in recent months.

It will be the 87-year-old pope’s first visit to the lagoon city since his 2013 election and he will also be the first pontiff to visit the Venice Biennale – a prestigious art show with exhibitions sponsored by numerous nations in myriad spaces.

The Vatican’s exhibition has been set up in a women’s prison and the pope will kick off his trip early on Sunday, flying directly into the Giudecca jail by helicopter from the Vatican to view the show entitled “Through My Eyes”.

It features creations by nine contemporary artists who worked closely with inmates on the project.

The unusual decision to house the Holy See pavilion in the jail highlights Francis’ repeated calls for society to rally around the poor and neglected, including prison populations. He has regularly visited detention centres during his papacy.

The pope is expected to meet some of the prisoners and staff on Sunday and deliver the first of three speeches, before heading by motorboat to the 16th century church of La Madeleine and then on to St. Mark’s Basilica for a Mass.

About 10,000 people are expected to attend the service, with thousands more likely to fill the giant St.

Mark’s Square outside to follow it on large screens. He will fly back home in his distinctive white helicopter after a visit set to last just over six hours.

It is the pope’s first trip beyond Rome since a brief visit to France last September.

He had been due to attend a climate change conference in the United Arab Emirates in December, but pulled out shortly beforehand after coming down with influenza.

Francis uses a cane or a wheelchair to move around due to a knee ailment, and suffers from repeated bouts of bronchitis and flu.

He unexpectedly withdrew from a Good Friday procession in March “to preserve his health”, but has looked well since then.

The Venice trip is the first of four planned inside Italy in the next three months.

Pope Francis pleads for peace in Easter message

He is scheduled to visit Verona in May and Trieste in July, and also is expected to attend a June summit of Group of Seven (G7) leaders in Bari.

In September, he is set to embark on the longest foreign trip of his papacy, travelling to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and Singapore from Sept. 2-13.

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