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Pope Francis hopes to visit China soon

'You ask me if I have a desire to go to China? Certainly, tomorrow. Yes.'

<p>Pope Francis speaks to reporters aboard his Korean Air flight to Rome on Monday. (Photo by Steve Finch/ucanews.com)</p>

Pope Francis speaks to reporters aboard his Korean Air flight to Rome on Monday. (Photo by Steve Finch/ucanews.com)

  • Steve Finch on the papal plane
  • International
  • August 19, 2014
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Pope Francis said during his return flight from South Korea on Monday that he hoped to visit China soon.  This trip has never been undertaken by a pontiff.

At the end of a first visit to Asia, the pope again sent a greeting to President Xi Jinping as his Korean Air flight passed through Chinese airspace after leaving Seoul.

“You ask me if I have a desire to go to China? Certainly, tomorrow. Yes,” he said during a mid-flight press conference.

In the first remarks he has made during the trip on China's restrictions on Christianity, Francis alluded to the Vatican’s negotiating position as it seeks to establish ties with Beijing.

“We respect the Chinese people. The Church only asks for freedom for its job, its work – no other condition,” he said.

The pope’s comments ended a landmark trip during which the Vatican was mostly reluctant to elaborate on relations with China.

Vatican Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi would not confirm a reported meeting with Chinese officials took place in June, and the pope declined to answer a question on China posed by a young delegate from Hong Kong during Asian Youth Day on Friday.

“Obviously the people in China are in the heart and mind of the pope,” Fr Lombardi said after the event.

Chinese authorities have destroyed or taken down crosses at more than 230 churches in Zhejiang province this year, and Catholics across the country were reportedly restricted from heading to South Korea for events with the pope, a sign that the pope’s chances of visiting China remain remote.

Despite the difficulties, a first papal flight over Chinese airspace and rare public greetings to Xi represent the most significant progress in the relationship in years.

“Returning to Rome after my visit to Korea, I wish to renew to Your Excellency and your fellow citizens the assurance of my best wishes, as I invoke divine blessings upon your land,” the pope said in a message during Monday’s flight, his second to Xi in five days.

Less noticed was the pope’s blessing of a Chinese martyr among a group of 124 in Korea during a beatification mass in downtown Seoul on Saturday.

Father James Zhou Wen-mo of Suzhou, near Shanghai, was beheaded because of his faith in 1801, less than seven years after he first entered Korea as a Catholic missionary.

Matteo Ricci, a 16th century Italian Jesuit missionary considered a friend by most Chinese, is also tipped for beatification by Francis although there has been no word from the Vatican.

The pope said that Ricci came to mind after his greeting was sent to Xi during the first papal flight over China on Thursday.

“I thought of the grand Chinese sages. They were also Jesuits. We have our history: Father Ricci,” he said. “All of their histories came to me in spirit.”

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