The pope also responded to a question about the possibility of a papal trip to Vietnam, saying that he was “very positive about relations with Vietnam,” despite the problems in the past in the Holy See’s “slow” dialogue with the country’s socialist government, adding that he thinks that any future problems can be overcome.
Pope Francis joked: “If I do not go [to Vietnam], I’m sure that [a future Pope] John XXIV will go!”
The 86-year-old pope added: “To tell the truth, travel is not as easy for me as it was in the beginning.” He added that he has some physical limitations with walking that can make traveling more difficult, but that he is looking into the possibility of visiting a small country in Europe.
Vietnam is home to an estimated 8 million Catholics but has never had full diplomatic relations with the Holy See or a papal trip. The Vatican has been engaged in formal bilateral discussions with Vietnam since 2009 and earlier this year, during the visit of Vietnam’s President Vo Van Thuong to the Vatican, the Vietnamese government agreed to allow a permanent papal representative in the country.
Pope Francis said that he believes that Vietnam “merits” a papal trip someday and that it is “a land that deserves to go forward.”
The pope’s trip to Mongolia was a historic first for the Catholic Church as no pope had ever traveled to the large landlocked Asian country sandwiched between Russia and China.
During his four days in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar, Pope Francis met with government leaders, engaged in interreligious dialogue with Buddhists or other Eastern religions, and presided over the first papal Mass for the country’s small Catholic population of only 1,450 Catholics.
In the press conference, Pope Francis described Mongolia as a land that “lives between two great powers, Russia and China,” and praised the country’s pursuit of ongoing dialogue, including with “third neighbors.”
The pope has a busy schedule in the month ahead leading up to the first global Synod on Synodality assembly in October.
Pope Francis is scheduled to make another international trip to Marseilles, France, to participate in a meeting of Catholic bishops from the Mediterranean region, publish an update to his environmental encyclical Laudato Si’, preside over an ecumenical prayer vigil, and create 21 new cardinals at a consistory at the end of September.