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Pope Francis says he'll meet with Mongolia's 'noble, wise' people in first visit there by a pontiff

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Sunday described his visit later this week to Mongolia, the first-ever pilgrimage by a pontiff to the east Asian country, as a much-desired occasion to encounter a “noble, wise” people.

Speaking to the public in St. Peter’s Square, Francis said the trip would also be an opportunity to embrace the Catholic community there, describing the church in Mongolia as “small in numbers but lively in faith and great in charity.” The pilgrimage is also an opportunity "to meet up close with a noble, wise people,'' he said.

Francis departs on Thursday, returning to Rome four days later. There are fewer than 1,500 Catholics in Mongolia, where some 3.2 million people live in one of the world’s least densely populated countries.

The pope said Mongolia has a great religious tradition that “I will have the honor to know,” especially in the context of an inter-religious event during the trip on Sept. 3.

The largest percentage of Mongolia's people are Buddhist.

In his remarks, Francis said he wanted to address “you, brothers and sisters of Mongolia, telling you that I am happy to travel to be among you as a brother of all."

He also asked the faithful in the square to accompany him in prayer during his trip.