Pope Francis said on Tuesday (Sep 13) he was willing to go to China at any time but had "no news" to offer over speculation he might meet Chinese President Xi Jinping during a papal visit to Kazakhstan this week.
Speaking to reporters accompanying him on his flight to the central Asian republic, Pope Francis was asked whether he might meet Xi in its capital Nur-Sultan, where both men will be on Wednesday.
"I don't have any news about that," the pope replied. "I am always ready to go to China."
Francis has tried to ease the historically poor relations between the Holy See and China, and told Reuters in an interview in July that he hoped to renew a secret and contested agreement on the appointment of Roman Catholic bishops in China.
Xi is visiting Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan from Sep 14 to 16 in his first official trip to a foreign nation since China all but shut its borders due to COVID-19.
Francis will be in Kazakhstan until Thursday for a peace meeting of world religious leaders marked by the conspicuous absence of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, who supports the war in Ukraine.
Kirill had been expected to attend the Seventh Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, and Francis had several times said he was willing to talk to him.
Francis, who suffers from a knee ailment, used a cane to walk around the plane greeting reporters as he usually does on such trips. He appeared in pain by the time he returned to his own seat.