By Devin Watkins
As is his custom, Pope Francis paid a visit to the ancient icon of Maria Salus Populi Romani on Friday morning, a day after returning to Rome from his Apostolic Journey to Kazakhstan.
According to the Holy See Pres Office, the Pope traveled by car to the Basilica of St. Mary Major “to pray before the icon” of Our Lady, before returning to the Vatican.
The Holy Father spent the last 3 days in the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan, where he met with religious leaders from across the globe in Nur-Sultan and offered his closeness to the country’s small Catholic community.
The papal plane touched down at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport on Thursday evening.
Pope’s thoughts on his visit
Aboard the flight, Pope Francis told journalists that he was plesantly surprised by Kazakhstan and its people.
“It is such a large country, with nineteen million people – unbelievable. Very disciplined, and beautiful,” he said. “With so much beauty: the architecture of the city is well-balanced, well-arranged. A modern city, a city I would perhaps say of the future.”
He also spoke highly of the “important” work of the 7th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, which he attended on Wednesday and Thursday.
The Pope said a great many faiths were represented, offering a privileged space for dialogue. “At the table, you could see that everyone was talking and listening to each other with respect,” he told reporters.
Pope Francis also praised the enthusiasm and joy of Catholics in Kazakhstan, as well as their efforts to coexist as a tiny minority in the country – less than 1 percent of the population.
“Their coexistence with Muslims is something that is being worked on quite a bit,” he said, “and we are going forward, not only in Kazakhstan.”