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Pope says he is willing to visit China

Denies reports that he did not receive the Dalai Lama at the Vatican recently due to Chinese pressure

Joe Torres, aboard the papal plane to Rome

Joe Torres, aboard the papal plane to Rome

Published: January 20, 2015 07:21 AM GMT

Updated: April 22, 2015 01:24 AM GMT

Pope says he is willing to visit China

Pope Francis talks with journalists on the flight back to Rome from the Philippines (Photo by Joe Torres)

Pope Francis said he is ready to visit China at any time, although he said Beijing and the Vatican are taking the process "step by step".

"We are open and we want peace with everyone," the pontiff told journalists as the papal plane passed over Chinese airspace from Manila to Rome on Monday.

"The Chinese people are educated, we are also educated. We take the process step by step. They know I am willing to receive [an invitation] to China," Pope Francis said.

When the papal plane entered Chinese airspace, the pontiff sent a telegram to President Xi Jinping, offering the Chinese leader prayers for the people of China and invoking blessings of "harmony and prosperity".

It was the second time the pontiff has sent a telegram of greetings to China’s leader.

In August last year, as he was on his way to South Korea, the pope sent a telegram to President Xi, extending "best wishes" and invoking "the divine blessings of peace and well-being upon the nation".

The pope traditionally sends a telegram to the governments of the countries he flies over. 

Vatican and China have had no official relations in recent years. While the Chinese government claims the right to appoint bishops, the Vatican regards the act as an exclusive prerogative of the Holy See.

China severed relations with the Holy See in 1951 after the communists took power.

More recently, Pope Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis have appeared more active in looking to mend ties.

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Pope Francis also denied reports that he did not receive the Dalai Lama at the Vatican recently because of Chinese pressure.

"Some newspapers said that I did not meet with him out of fear of China. This is not true,” he said.

"The usual protocol of the secretary of state is not to receive heads of state and high-ranking personalities when they are in Rome for an international meeting," he said

"Thus I did not receive anyone," said Pope Francis. "My motive was not a rejection of the person or fear of China," he added.

The pontiff said the Dalai Lama has asked for an audience and a date has been set, "but not for the moment". 

"We're in touch," he said.

The Dalai Lama was in Rome last month for a meeting of Nobel Peace Prize recipients.

Pope Francis, meanwhile, hinted at a possible trip to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay later this year, as well as the Central African Republic and Uganda.

He said the trip to Uganda is already "a little late" because of the Ebola outbreak. "They have to calculate the rain, the weather … [when it] is good to do the visit," he said.

The proposed African trips would likely take place at the end of 2015 to avoid the rainy seasons. No dates were given for Ecuador, Bolivia or Paraguay, but the visits are likely in July, Vatican officials said.

Francis also confirmed he hoped to visit Argentina, Chile and Uruguay in 2016 — and Peru at some point.

Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said the travel plans were "provisional" and "nothing has been decided".



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