Pope Francis’ trip to Mongolia in September will be closely watched by Russia and China

by | Jul 7, 2023 | Religion

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis travels to the periphery of Roman Catholicism later this summer when he becomes the first pontiff to visit Mongolia, a Central Asian nation squeezed between Russia and China with just 1,500 Catholics.The visit is steeped in geopolitical significance as it will be closely watched by both Russia, which controlled Mongolia during the Soviet era, and China, which is seeking to exert its influence through the Belt and Road initiative.
No pope has visited either of those nations, and the pope is likely to choose to fly over China on his way, rather than Russia, which is waging war in Ukraine. Following papal custom, Francis can be expected to send a brief telegram to Chinese authorities in recognition, from which a word or two of meaning could be parsed, said Giorgio Bernadelli, editorial coordinator of the missionary news organization Asia News.
Francis has been trying to toe a diplomatic line with both countries, sending an envoy to Russia in a bid for a peace deal over Ukraine while seeking to keep relations on an even keel with China, which violated a 2018 accord over bishop nominations.
The Sept. 1-4 schedule released on Thursday is light by papal standards and includes a full day of rest upon arrival, which appears to be a concession to the 86-year-old pope’s recent health issues. Most recently, he was hospitalized to repair a hernia.
Francis will be welcomed on Sept. 2 in a ceremony in Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, in a ceremony in the central Sukhbaatar Square, near an imposing statue of the infamo …

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