Pope makes history as he sends his best wishes to China
Pope Francis sent his best wishes to the people of China yesterday as he made history by becoming the first pontiff to cross into the country's air space.
The message, addressed to Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, comes in the middle of one of the most intense campaigns of repression by the Communist Party against Christians.
It is customary for the Pope to send greetings to every country over which he flies, but the last time a pontiff wanted to fly over China, in 1989, Beijing refused.
"Upon entering Chinese air space, I extend best wishes to your excellency and fellow citizens and I invoke the divine blessings of peace and well-being upon the nation," the Pope said, in a radio message to Mr Xi.
Pope Francis was speaking on his way to South Korea, where he will spend five days meeting some of the country's five million Roman Catholics.
Of the 10 countries over which he flew to reach Seoul, only the messages to China and Mongolia did not mention "God".
Since the beginning of the year, the authorities in China's Zhejiang province have destroyed or removed hundreds of crosses from churches.
The auxiliary bishop of Shanghai, Thaddeus Ma Daqin, has entered his third year of de facto house arrest and Father Peng Weizhao, an apostolic administrator in the eastern province of Jiangxi, disappeared into detention at the end of May.
As the Pope landed in Seoul, there were also rumours that between 40 and 50 Chinese had been stopped from travelling to South Korea to attend an Asian Youth Day event.
Heo Young-yeop, a spokesman for the Committee for the Papal Visit to Korea, said there had been a "complicated situation inside China".
Ren Dahai, the director of Jinde Charities, a Catholic charity in China, said he had "heard from friends" that some Chinese had been granted visas to travel, but were stopped at the airport. AsiaNews, a Catholic website, said those who were blocked were seminarians from Beijing who refused last month to attend a Mass organised by bishops who had not been authorised by the Vatican.
Meanwhile, the Pope called on South and North Korea to renew their efforts to find peace, saying that patient dialogue must replace "mutual recriminations, fruitless criticisms and displays of force". In the first speech of his trip, he told Park Geun-hye, the South Korean president, that peace required forgiveness and mutual respect.
Unusually, the Pope spoke in English, the first time he has done so in his 18-month pontificate. As an Argentine, his first language is Spanish, and he generally speaks Italian for his addresses in Rome, but is much less comfortable speaking English. (© Daily Telegraph)