Pope Francis denied that he refused to receive the Dalai Lama in December over fears of upsetting China, and expressed that there was a possibility he would meet with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader in the future.
“Some newspapers said that I did not meet with him out of fear of China. This is not true,” Pope Francis told journalists in a papal plane from Manila to Rome on Monday.
“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.”
The pontiff added that the Dalai Lama had asked for an audience some while ago and that a date had been set, “but not for the moment.”
“We are in contact,” he said.
The response follows reports from mid-December that Pope Francis had snubbed the Dalai Lama at the 14th World Summit of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates in Rome in a bid to improve ties with Beijing and to avoid making trouble for China’s Catholic community.
When journalists on Monday asked about his efforts to mend ties between the Vatican and China, Pope Francis replied: “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”.
When his plane entered Chinese airspace on its way toward the Vatican, Pope Francis sent a telegram to President Xi Jinping, as he traditionally does with governments of countries he flies over, offering prayers for the people of China.
China has not had diplomatic relations with the Vatican since 1951, when Chairman Mao took over.