Pope Francis criticized the current state of democracy and cautioned against "populists" during a brief visit to Trieste in Italy's northeast on Sunday, just before embarking on a 12-day journey to Asia—the longest trip of his papacy.

"Democracy is not in good health in the world today," Francis stated during a speech at the city's convention center to conclude a national Catholic event. Without specifying any countries, the pope cautioned against "ideological temptations and populists" on the day France held the second round of a snap parliamentary vote, which was expected to see the far-right National Rally (RN) party secure the largest share of the vote.

"Ideologies are seductive. Some people compare them to the Pied Piper of Hamelin: they seduce but lead you to deny yourself," he said, referencing the German fairytale. Prior to last month's European parliament elections, bishops in several countries had also warned about the rise of populism and nationalism, with far-right parties already in power in Italy, Hungary, and the Netherlands.

Francis also encouraged people to "move away from polarizations that impoverish" and criticized "self-referential power." After visits to Venice in April and Verona in May, this half-day trip to Trieste, a city of 200,000 inhabitants on the Adriatic Sea bordering Slovenia, marked the third within Italy this year for the 87-year-old pontiff, who has faced increasing health issues in recent years.

Since his trip to the French city of Marseille in September 2023, the Argentine Jesuit has restricted his travels to within Italy. However, he plans to spend nearly two weeks in Asia in September, visiting Indonesia, Singapore, and the islands of Papua New Guinea and East Timor. He arrived in Trieste shortly before 9am and was scheduled to meet with various groups from the religious and academic spheres, as well as migrants and the disabled. The papal visit is set to conclude with a mass in the city's main public square before he departs for the Vatican in the early afternoon.