Pope Francis is well along his first Asian visit after landing in South Korea on Thursday but it was China which received one of his earliest greetings from thousands of miles in the sky.
“I extend the best wishes to your excellency and your fellow citizens, and I invoke the divine blessings of peace and well-being upon the nation,” Francis said in a telegram sent to President Xi Jinping and the Chinese people when the papal plane passed over Chinese airspace en route to Seoul, according to Apple Daily.
Earlier, the Chinese government gave unprecedented overflight to the Alitalia charter plane carrying the pope, a gesture none of his predecessors received and presumably few fellow heads of state have been granted.
That meant the plane had permission to fly over a vast swath of Chinese territory, saving time and distance.
However, Beijing’s papal gesture is not expected to bring any breakthrough in bilateral relations at least in the short term, the report said, citing Dr. Anthony Lam of Hong Kong’s Holy Spirit Study Center.
More than 100 Chinese Catholics planned to travel to South Korea to attend the papal visit and related activities, including the Sixth Asia Youth Day, but half of them were stopped by the Chinese government and some were arrested, according to South Korean sources on the organizing committee.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs refused to comment but said Beijing is willing to improve its relationship with the Vatican through dialogue.
Beijing and the Vatican, which have had no official relations for decades, have clashed over who has the power to nominate Catholic bishops in the country.
The Chinese government insists it has the right to pick the bishops but Rome regards the matter as entirely up to the Vatican.
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