Pope Francis seen in wheelchair in trip to Kazakhstan, open to meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping

By | September 13, 2022

Pope Francis arrived in Kazakhstan on his “pilgrimage of peace” after a demanding plane ride that required assistance for the aging pontiff.

The Holy Father landed in Kazakhstan on Tuesday for a three-day tour of the country meeting with both secular and religious leaders.

The final outcome of the trip remains open to speculation, as the pope’s schedule remains open to a possible meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who will be in Kazakhstan at the same time as the pontiff.

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“It will be an occasion to meet so many religious representatives and to dialogue as brothers, animated by the common desire for peace, the peace for which our world is thirsting,” Francis said of the trip over the weekend.

During his trip, the pope had been hoping to meet with the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, who has sought to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on spiritual and ideological grounds in a “metaphysical” battle with the West. However, earlier this summer, Kirill bowed out of the interfaith gathering.

Xi is expected to land in Kazakhstan on Wednesday on his own diplomatic trip, raising questions whether the two world leaders could meet.

Pope Francis said he remains open to meeting with Chinese leaders, but that he has no news or information about a possible face-to-face.

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With arrests, intimidation and legal restrictions from the CCP suppressing even apolitical Catholics’ religious practices, the Vatican and Beijing have barely managed to maintain an open dialogue.

Under Mao Zedong in the early 1950s, China severed diplomatic ties with the Vatican, razed churches and deported missionaries before setting up its own Catholic Association. 

Under this self-styled guild, the CCP retained the right to ordain bishops without the Vatican’s approval, which the Church has vehemently disputed. Chinese bishops consecrated without papal approval are considered valid, but doing so normally carries an immediate excommunication.

The Catholic Church continues to walk a thin line attempting to reclaim authority from the CCP without further endangering its members within Chinese borders.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.