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Thursday, 14 August 2014

Pope Francis begins first Asia trip


Pope Francis visits South Korea in first Asia trip President Park Geun-hye greeted the pontiff on his arrival in South Korea
Pope Francis has landed in South Korea, beginning his first visit to Asia since he took over the papacy in March 2013.

During his trip, he will beatify Korean Catholics who died for their faith and attend a Catholic youth festival.
The South Korean Catholic Church is one of the fastest growing in the world, with just over 5.4 million members, some 10.4% of the population.
Shortly before the Pope arrived, North Korea fired three short-range rockets off its east coast.
The last rocket was launched 35 minutes before the Pope landed at Incheon airport, Reuters reported.
Pyongyang has engaged in several such launches in recent months in what it says is a response to US and South Korean provocations – in the latest case, a military drill due to start on Monday.
No North Koreans
President Park Geun-hye was at the airport to greet the pontiff.
He is expected to pay tribute to some of South Korea’s first Catholics when he beatifies 124 Koreans who died in the 18th and 19th Centuries.
After an individual is beatified, he or she is given the title “blessed”.
The beatification ceremony will be held on Saturday at Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul, with up to one million people expected to attend.
This is the first visit by a pope to South Korea since 1989Preparations are under way at Gwanghwamun Square for the papal mass
The pontiff is also attending Asian Youth Day, a festival for young Catholics from across the region.
He is also scheduled to meet students who survived the Sewol ferry disaster that claimed more than 300 lives.
A Mass for Peace and Reconciliation will be held in the Myeong-dong cathedral in Seoul on Monday, on the final day of his trip.
There Pope Francis will deliver a message of peace for the divided Koreas and East Asia, according to Yonhap News Agency.
North Korea rejected an invitation by the Archdiocese of Seoul for 10 North Korean Catholics to attend the final mass, South Korean officials say.
It is not clear how many Catholics there are in North Korea.
A UN Human Rights Council report released in February 2014 said that apart from the few organised state-controlled churches, Christians were prohibited from practising their religion and were persecuted.
The trip is the first visit by a pope to Asia in almost 20 years. Pope Francis is due to visit again in January when he travels to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, one of only two Asian countries with a Catholic majority – the other being East Timor.
Pope John Paul II was the last pope to visit South Korea in 1989, where he prayed for reunification between the North and the South.
Beijing detente?
Meanwhile, on his way to South Korea the Pope also sent a telegram to China’s leaders, a tradition when the pontiff flies over a country.
“I extend my best wishes to your excellency and your fellow citizens, and I invoke divine blessings of peace and well being upon the nation,” the telegram said.
The Vatican has no ties with Beijing, which does not recognise the Vatican’s authority and runs its own Catholic Church.
The last time a pope visited the region, he had to avoid Chinese air space.
But in what a Church spokesman has called “a sign of detente”, the papal plane was given permission to use Chinese air space.
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