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Gerard O’ConnellSeptember 01, 2023
Pope Francis smiles as he greets journalists aboard his overnight flight from Rome to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Aug. 31, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

Pope Francis was asked aboard his flight to Mongolia overnight about his comment that there is a strong, reactionary element in the Catholic Church in the United States.

The pope said he knew some people were upset by the remarks, but the church must keep moving forward.

“They got angry, but let’s move on, move on,” the pope told reporters.

The pope’s original comments made to Jesuits in Portugal at the beginning of August were published later by the Italian Jesuit magazine La Civilta Cattolica. One Jesuit brother asked Pope Francis about his critics in the United States.

“You have seen that in the United States the situation is not easy: there is a very strong reactionary attitude,” the pope responded in Lisbon. “I would like to remind those people that indietrismo (being backward-looking) is useless, and we need to understand that there is an appropriate evolution in the understanding of matters of faith and morals.”

Pope Francis said he knew some people were upset by the remarks, but the church must keep moving forward. “They got angry, but let’s move on, move on,” the pope told reporters.

He added: “You have been to the United States, and you say you have felt a climate of closure. Yes, this climate can be experienced in some situations. And there you can lose the true tradition and turn to ideologies for support. In other words, ideology replaces faith, membership of a sector of the church replaces membership of the church.”

On the nine-and-a-half hour flight from Rome to Ulaanbaatar, Pope Francis traveled through the airspace of 12 countries starting in Italy and then passing through Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia.

Pope Francis sent a telegram of good wishes to President Xi Jinping as he flew through China’s airspace, despite knowing that the Chinese authorities have prevented the Catholic bishops and faithful of mainland China from traveling to Mongolia to join in prayer with him on his historic visit to that country. China had, however, given permission for the pope to fly over their airspace.

“I send greetings of good wishes to your excellency and the people of China as I pass through your country’s airspace en route to Mongolia. Assuring you of my prayers for the wellbeing of the nation, I invoke upon all of you the Divine Blessing of unity and peace,” he said in the message, written in English. Francis became the first pope to fly over China’s airspace in 2014 when he visited South Korea.

Soon after take-off from Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport, Pope Francis walked through the plane, using a cane, to greet each of the 66 journalists from many countries, including America’s Vatican correspondent. He was given several gifts, including a cashmere sweater from Mongolia.

The pope told reporters he has written an exhortation on St. Therese that will be published on Oct. 15.

Sylvia Wysocka, correspondent for PAP, the Polish News Agency, showed him a picture of the Ulma family. The Polish husband, wife and all their children, including their newborn baby, were executed by the Nazis on March 24, 1944, for trying to save Polish Jewish families. They will be beatified in Poland on Sept. 10. Francis looked intensely at the picture, and with emotion moved his hand over the image of the entire family.

Carolina Pigozzi, the reporter for Paris Match, presented him with a framed effigy of St. Therese of Lisieux holding white roses, and Francis, who is deeply devoted to this saint, told her that he has written an exhortation on St. Therese that will be published on Oct. 15.

Eva Fernandez, the reporter for COPE, the Spanish Catholic radio station, remarked to the pope that it must be difficult to do diplomacy in a time of war. Francis responded, “You cannot imagine how difficult, but one must go on and one needs a sense of humor.” She also presented him with a water bottle from a person in Ukraine riddled with shrapnel holes, and he blessed it as the owner had requested.

On his arrival at Mongolia’s international airport in Ulaanbaatar, Pope Francis was welcomed by the Mongolian foreign minister, and a young woman offered him a cup of dry yogurt, the traditional gift of welcome to visitors. Cardinal Giorgio Marengo, the apostolic prefect of Mongolia, also welcomed him. Francis was then pushed in his wheelchair past an honor guard and driven to the apostolic prefecture where he will reside during the visit, which ends on Monday, Sept, 4.

Francis rested for the rest of the day, and tomorrow morning he will be given a state welcome by the country’s president in Sükhbaatar Square in the city center. Afterward he will address the civil and religious authorities of this country and the diplomatic corps in the Ikh Mongol Hall of the State Palace. In the afternoon, he will meet the bishops, missionaries and pastoral workers of Mongolia’s Catholic community in the cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, which was built in 1996.

Material from CNS was used in the report. Colleen Dulle also contributed to this report.

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