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A homecoming in 2024?

Shortly after his election in 2013, Pope Francis remarked that he didn’t expect to travel much. That was accurate for his first year in office, when he made just one foreign trip, to Brazil for World Youth Day.

But since then, the pope has been adding mileage at a rate not seen since the barnstorming days of Pope John Paul II. He’s made 42 trips outside of Italy to 60 countries. That’s about five trips per year, excluding time off for Covid in 2020.

Pope Francis has also traveled to countries where no pope had ever been: Myanmar, North Macedonia, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Bahrain and South Sudan. He’ll add to that list when he visits Mongolia in early September.

Yet one country, surprisingly, has been omitted from papal itineraries to date: his native Argentina. For reasons that have never been fully explained, Pope Francis has held off on the kind of “homecoming” visit that would surely ignite enthusiasm in the predominantly Catholic country.

One factor appears to be Argentina’s volatile political scene. Pope Francis has said he doesn’t want a papal visit to play into local politics. Most recently, he has hinted that he would like to visit his homeland in 2024, after this year’s election battles are over.

In that regard, Francis is very much unlike his two recent predecessors. Pope Benedict made three trips to his native Germany, addressing Parliament and raising uncomfortable issues for legislators. John Paul II visited Poland nine times, and became a protagonist in Poland’s political evolution in the 1980s and ‘90s.

The latest reports from Argentina indicate March-May 2024 as the most likely time slot for a papal visit. As always, planning is contingent on the pope's health, but so far Pope Francis has managed mobility issues with a cane or wheelchair, and he seems fine with that.

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