Pope Francis has asked for prayers as he prepares to visit “the heart of Asia,” the sparsely-populated country of Mongolia.
The pope will travel approximately 5,600 miles to Ulaanbaatar, the Mongolian capital, from Aug. 31 to Sept. 4.
“It is a much-desired visit,” he said on Aug. 27 after his weekly Angelus address at the Vatican.
The trip, he said, “will be an opportunity to embrace a Church that is small in number but vibrant in faith and great in charity, and also to meet at close quarters a noble, wise people with a strong religious tradition that I will have the honor of getting to know, especially in the context of an interreligious event.”
During the four-day visit, Pope Francis is scheduled to meet with government leaders, engage in interreligious dialogue, and offer Mass for the small Catholic population, which numbers just 1,450 in a country of about 3 million people.
Francis will become the first pope in the history of the Catholic Church to visit Mongolia, a democracy sandwiched between the authoritarian powers of Russia and China.
“I would now like to address you, brothers and sisters of Mongolia, to tell you that I am happy to travel to be among you as a brother of all,” Francis said from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square.
“I thank your authorities for their kind invitation and those who, with great commitment, are preparing for my arrival,” he added. “I ask all of you to accompany this visit with your prayers.”