“Russian culture is of such beauty, such profoundness. It should not be cancelled because of political problems. There were dark political years in Russia but the heritage is there, available to all,” he said.
Francis was asked about China, which was in the backdrop of his trip to Mongolia.
At a Mass on Sunday, in his latest overture to the leaders of the communist country to ease restrictions on religion, Francis called its citizens a “noble” people and asking its Catholics to be “good Christians and good citizens”.
With regard to Vatican-China relations, Francis said: “I think we have to move forward in the religious aspect in order to understand each other better, so that Chinese citizens do not think the Church does not accept their culture and their values and (do not think) that the Church represents another foreign power.”
Beijing has been following a policy of “Sinicisation” of religion, trying to root out foreign influences and enforce obedience to the Communist Party.
A 2018 agreement between the Vatican and China on the appointment of bishops has been tenuous at best, with the Vatican complaining that Beijing has violated it several times.
“Relations with China are very respectful. Personally I have great admiration for the Chinese people,” he said.
Catholics from communist-run Vietnam, which recently upgraded its relations with the Vatican, travelled to Mongolia to see the Pope and said they wanted him to visit their country too.
Asked if he would visit Vietnam, Francis joked: “If I don’t go surely John XXIV will go,” he said, speculating on the possible name of a future pope.
“There certainly will be (a papal trip to Vietnam),” he said.
Francis, who uses and wheelchair and a cane, was coy about what trips we would make next year after a visit to Marseilles for a conference on immigration next month.
“Travelling is not as easy as it was at the beginning (of his papacy in 2013),” he said.