With China on his mind, pope visits tiny Catholic flock in Mongolia

Pope Francis goes to Mongolia on Thursday, a mainly Buddhist nation having around 1,450 Catholics, which the Vatican wishes can act as a facilitator to calm down tough rapports with China. The chartered ITA Airways plane having the pope and his fury was due to leave Rome at 6.30 p.m. (1630 GMT) for the 9 hour, 30 minute flight to Ulaanbaatar.

It was due to fly over China for around an hour before crossing into Mongolia. Francis will provide news from the plane to Chinese President Xi Jinping, as he does with the heads of state of all nations he flies over. While the pieces of information are pro-forma, normally highlighting God’s blessings on a nation and its residents, the one to Xi could be significant because of the Vatican’s tough rapports with Beijing. Mongolia was part of China until 1921 and has intimate political and economic collaboration with Beijing. Diplomats say it could be used as an mediator with China.

It was not crystal clear if any Catholics from mainland China would travel across the edge to discover the pope. Going to areas where Catholics are a minority is a slice of Francis’ policy of bringing attention to people and issues in what he has called the peripheries of society and of the world. He has not been to most of the capitals of Western Europe.The first event for Francis, 86 and in requirement of a wheelchair, is on Saturday, when he encounters and acknowledges government governers and the diplomatic corps.