Mongolia next? But why won’t Pope Francis visit Argentina? [news analysis] www.catholicculture.org
Pope Francis has announced his intention to visit Mongolia later this year.
The landlocked Asian country might seem an odd destination for a papal visit. There are only about 1,300 Catholics in Mongolia—probably not as many as in your home parish—accounting for just 0.04% of the country’s population. But the Pope has taken a keen interest in the missionary territory, choosing its only bishop, Giorgio Morengo, to receive a cardinal’s red hat last year. And surely no one would deny that the faithful Catholics of Mongolia deserve the pastoral attention of the Roman Pontiff, just like the Catholics of any other nation.
Still, the plan for a trip to Mongolia sharpens one of the mysterious questions about this pontificate. As he approaches the 10th anniversary of his election, why hasn’t Pope Francis visited his homeland? Among all his travel destinations, why hasn’t he ever chosen a trip back to Argentina?
For many of his 40 trips outside Italy—which the Vatican categorizes as “pastoral voyages”—Pope Francis has chosen to visit many countries where Catholics, and even Christians, are a tiny minority, such as Albania, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Turkey. Yet he hasn’t been back to Argentina, where 92% of the people are counted as Catholics. He has traveled to east Asia; he has only recently returned from sub-Saharan Africa. But he hasn’t made it home
The omission of Argentina from the Pope’s travel dockets is even more curious, when one considers that he has crisscrossed South America, hopping around neighboring countries without touching down. In 2013 he was in Brazil; in 2015, Ecuador and Bolivia and Paraguay; in 2017, Colombia; in 2018, Chile and Peru. Any one of those trips could have allowed for a stop in Buenos Aires, where he was born and raised—where he served, as auxiliary bishop and then as archbishop, for over 20 years.
While he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the future Pontiff was known for avoiding foreign travel. When church business took him to Rome, he returned home as quickly as he could—unlike the many prelates who take every opportunity to lengthen their stays in the Eternal City. In fact when he reported to Rome for the conclave of 2013 he had every intention of returning to Buenos Aires as soon as the new Pope was elected. Ten years later, he still hasn’t returned.
Pope John Paul II, elected in October 1978, made it to Poland by June of the following year, despite the marked reluctance of the country’s Communist leaders to allow a papal visit. Pope Benedict XVI was in Germany less than six months after his election in 2005 (although the World Youth Day event that brought him to Cologne had been scheduled long before his election). Before them, of course, since the advent of air travel made foreign trips feasible, every Pope had been Italian.
To date, then, Pope Francis is the only Roman Pontiff in history who, having the ability to fly back to his native country for a visit, has not taken that opportunity. I have no theory to explain why he has not traveled home. But as the years go by, and the list of papal voyages lengthens, the mystery grows more intriguing.