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Pope Francis begins his journey to Asia

The pontiff is scheduled to arrive in Seoul on Thursday morning

Steve Finch, Rome

Steve Finch, Rome

Published: August 13, 2014 02:01 PM GMT

Updated: August 13, 2014 03:14 AM GMT

Pope Francis begins his journey to Asia

Pope Francis departed Rome at 4pm local time bound for Seoul, Korea. (Photo by Matteo Volpone/Shutterstock.com)

Pope Francis set off from Rome on Wednesday afternoon at the start of a landmark trip to South Korea, the first by a pope to Asia this millennium.

The pope took his white helicopter from the Vatican heading southwest across the Italian capital to Rome’s Fiumicino Airport shortly before special Alitalia flight AZ 4000 took off at 4pm local time.

The more than 10-hour flight is to travel over Eastern Europe ahead of the long journey across Russia and Mongolia before it was due to enter Chinese airspace early on Thursday morning, a first for a papal flight. According to protocol, the pope was expected to radio a message to China during the over-flight.

The pontiff was scheduled to land at Seoul’s military air base at 10:30am local time on Thursday ahead of a meeting with South Korean President Park Geun-hye.

The five-day visit to South Korea is the first by a pope to East Asia since John Paul II went to India in November 1999, where he launched a new pastoral guidebook for Asia that called for greater evangelization in the region.

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