Pope Francis Hoping To Renew Ties With Asian Nations

Pope Francis is hoping to improve ties between the Catholic Church and China, as well as other Asian nations. This comes during his South Korean visit.
Posted at 10:43 AM, Aug 17, 2014

Pope Francis is hoping to improve ties between the Catholic Church and China.

The pontiff is in South Korea for a five-day visit and has already taken more than one step to show his commitment for a better relationship between the church and Beijing. (Video via The Vatican)

The Wall Street Journal points out only 12 million Chinese are Catholic in the nation of more than 1 billion, but Francis still sees hope for improving relations. On Sunday, he told a group of Asian bishops he hopes he can help create ties with any country that doesn't already have them.

Korea's Yonhap News Agency cites a Vatican spokesman who says some of those other countries include Vietnam, Laos and North Korea. He also says: "This offer of the pope for dialogue is to all these lands and not just one."

But during the pope's nearly week-long visit, a lot of the media attention has been on China. (Video via BBC)

The coverage really began as reports came out that Pope Francis sent Chinese President Xi Jinping a telegram while flying in the country's airspace, which is actually customary when a pope flies over any country. (Via The Washington Post, USA Today, The China Post)

NPR called China's decision to allow the pope to fly in its airspace, a possible sign of "thawing relations." A pope hasn't been allowed to fly through Chinese airspace since a refusal was issued in 1989, and China hasn't had formal ties with the Vatican since the Communists took over 65 years ago.

China has also shown signs it's ready to improve relations as well. In a statement, The Times of India reports China says it's ready for an improvement through "constructive dialogue."

Still, at least one part of the officially atheist country has recently seen a so-called crackdown on Christianity as a whole. According to The New York Times, authorities in a coastal province ordered more than 100 churches to be demolished earlier this year and have removed crosses from others.

And earlier in the week, China was accused of blocking dozens of students from attending World Youth Day in South Korea, which, as The Korea Herald points out, the pope was attending. An organizer of the event blamed it on: "complicated, internal reasons in China."

Despite China's policies on religion, The Telegraph notes the country is on track to become the "world's most Christian nation" by 2030. It had more than 58 million Protestants in 2010, and a sociology professor at Purdue says it'll only go up from here, noting "Not many people are prepared for this dramatic change."

Pope Francis is expected to wrap up his trip to Asia in Korea on Monday.

This story contains images from Getty Images