ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE - Pope Francis said Sunday he is planning to visit India next year and is studying a possible trip to Mongolia later in 2023 in what would be a first for a pope.
Francis outlined his upcoming travel schedule during his flight back to Rome from South Sudan.
He confirmed that he would be in Lisbon, Portugal for World Youth Day the first week of August and would participate in a Sept. 23 meeting of Mediterranean bishops in Marseille, France.
He said there was 'the possibility' that he would fly from Marseille to Mongolia, which would be a first for a pope.
Looking further ahead, Francis said he thought he would visit India in 2024, after plans for a trip in 2017 fell apart.
Francis spoke to reporters after a six-day visit to Congo and South Sudan, where he was joined in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Rt. Rev. Iain Greenshields.
The Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian leaders made a novel joint visit to push South Sudan's political leaders to make progress on implementing a stalled 2018 peace accord that ended a civil war following the country's 2011 independence from Sudan.
Welby and Greenshields joined Francis aboard the papal plane back and took part in his airborne news conference, during which they were asked if they would be willing to join Francis on future trips too.
Welby said he would be 'delighted to' if it might be helpful, joking that the papal plane was 'the best airline I've ever flown on.'
Greenshields also was keen but noted his mandate ends in May.
In a nod to the nearly all-male Vatican delegation that accompanies Francis on his foreign trips, Greenshields pointed out that he would be replaced by 'a very capable woman' as moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Rev. Sally Foster-Fulton, an American. The Church of Scotland has had ordained female ministers since the 1960s.
'She would be delighted to do the same thing,' he said.
The Vatican delegation, made up mostly of cardinals and bishops, traditionally only includes one woman: a protocol expert in the Vatican secretariat of state. On this trip, Francis also invited as his personal guest a Congolese nun.