As we enter a year filled with anticipation, a prevalent question surfaces: Will Pope Francis make a return to Argentina after a decade of his pontificate? This query resonates with many, as Pope Francis has often voiced his wish to revisit his homeland - a trip that would be his first as the pontiff. Despite this desire, health issues have been a concern, notably his influenza, which, while unrelated to his overall health that necessitated two surgeries in the past three years, led to the cancellation of his intended trip to Dubai for COP28.
In an interview with Televisa, Pope Francis has detailed plans for three potential trips in the upcoming year: to Argentina, Belgium for the 600th anniversary of the University of Louvain, and to Polynesia. Of these, the visit to Belgium is confirmed.
Polynesia emerges as an unexpected destination, having never been mentioned by the Pope previously, in contrast to his expressed interest in visiting Papua New Guinea. A trip incorporating Thailand was also under consideration during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Belgium, on the other hand, is a definitive stop. With preliminary announcements emanating from Brussels, the visit is slated for September, implying that a journey to Polynesia would likely be scheduled for the summer.
Meanwhile, Argentina might feature in the Pope's itinerary in the early months of the year. A notable occasion is the rescheduled canonization of Mamma Antula, Argentina's Spiritual Mother, now set for February 11 instead of May. While canonizations are typically held in Rome and presided over by the Pope, there is a possibility that Pope Francis may exceptionally conduct this ceremony in Buenos Aires. February or March are being considered as probable for this potential visit to Argentina.
The earlier speculation of a trip to Kosovo appears to have been dismissed. Kosovo, a state not recognized by the Holy See, was mentioned by the Pope in an interview with Vida Nueva prior to his journey to Mongolia.
An additional, highly symbolic visit has been proposed: Pope Francis has received an invitation to visit Vietnam, extended by the country's Government Committee for Religious Affairs. The invitation, sent to Santa Marta, encourages the Pope to witness firsthand the socio-economic progress and religious life in this Southeast Asian nation.
As per the committee, Vietnam's President Thuong has conveyed his and the country's seven million Catholics' eagerness to welcome the Pope. He noted the profound impression left by his encounters with Pope Francis and Cardinal Pietro Parolin during his Vatican visit in July.
Significantly, on December 23, the Holy See appointed its first resident representative in Hanoi, marking a crucial step towards establishing full diplomatic relations.
Nonetheless, the number of Pope Francis's trips is expected to be no more than three.
Andrea Gagliarducci is an Italian journalist for Catholic News Agency and Vatican analyst for ACI Stampa. He is a contributor to the National Catholic Register.