Pope Francis Arrives in South Korea for 1st Asia Trip, North Fires Rockets

By @ibtimesau on
Pope Francis waves as he leads his Sunday Angelus prayer in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican
Pope Francis waves as he leads his Sunday Angelus prayer in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican July 13, 2014. Pope Francis on Sunday called for a stop in the flare-up of hostility between Palestinians and Israelis, urging leaders to listen to the call of the people who want peace. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

Pope Francis has arrived in South Korea for his first ever Asian visit since becoming pontiff of the 1.2-billion strong Roman Catholic church in March 2013. It was also the first visit by a pope to the region in 25 years.

North Korea likewise made its presence felt in the historic arrival of the pope by firing three short-range projectiles less than an hour before the pontiff's scheduled arrival.

"North Korea fired three short-range projectiles into the East Sea (Sea of Japan)," ABC News quoted an unidentified South Korean defence ministry spokesman.

Fox News reported the missiles were fired from Wonsan on the North's east coast. They flew about 135 miles.

It wasn't clear however just what the projectiles and its firing for - to agitate the officials in the south or to welcome the presence of Pope Francis.

Pope Francis has a jam-packed itinerary for his 5-day visit to South Korea, including leading the beatification of 124 Korean martyrs as well as help celebrate the 6th Asian Youth Day, a gathering of Asian Catholic youth.

Lionel Jensen, associate professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Notre Dame, told CNN the pope's visit to South Korea is a very intelligent opening to Asia. "The Pope's presence is a powerful symbol of the Vatican's recognition that it is in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa that the church is growing most prominently."

Pope Francis is also expected to hold a Holy Mass for Peace and Reconciliation more geared for harmonious relationships between the south and north Korea divides.

The Catholic Church in South Korea had extended an invitation to its northern counterpart to attend this mass, which as expected as rejected by the North.

Read: Pope Francis Korea Visit: North No to Seoul Mass, Families of Ferry Victims in South Refuse to De-Tent Gwanghwamun Square

There are about 5.4 million Catholics now in South Korea as of 2013.

Pope Francis also sent a message of goodwill to China as he flew over the world's second-largest economy.

"Upon entering Chinese air space, I extend best wishes to your Excellency and your fellow citizens and I invoke the divine blessing of peace and well-being upon the nation," he said in a radio message to President Xi Jinping.

It was the first time a pope had been allowed to fly over China on Asian tours.

Read: Pope Francis' 1st Asia Trip (S. Korea): To Visit Cemetery for Aborted Babies, Other Itinerary

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