Pope Francis confirmed on Friday that in September he plans to go to Mongolia, a country that has fewer than 1,500 Catholics but is strategically significant for the Roman Catholic Church because it borders China.
Francis first spoke of the possibility of going to Mongolia in a conversation with reporters aboard the papal plane returning from a trip to Africa in February. At the time he said it was a possibility but “not yet certain”.
The comment about Mongolia was unscripted and added extemporaneously at the audience for the ITA staff.
Francis has indicated the he will go to Mongolia directly from Marseilles, a trip that has been confirmed for Sept. 29.
Last August, Francis named Archbishop Giorgio Marengo, an Italian, the first cardinal to be based in Mongolia, where he is the Catholic Church’s administrator.
The country is significant for the Vatican because it has a long border and close ties with China, where the Vatican is trying to improve the situation of Catholics in the communist country.
Mongolia, once known as Outer Mongolia, was part of China until 1921, when it achieved independence with the help of the Soviet Union. Inner Mongolia remained part of China.
Francis is due to go to Portugal in August and has said he would probably go to India next year.