N. Korea fires projectiles as pope visits S. Korea

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N. Korea fires projectiles as pope visits S. Korea
Pope Francis puts a scarf on a child as he is driven through the crowd, in Mother Teresa Square, in Tirana, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. Pope Francis denounced that extremists around the world are "perverting" religion to justify violence as he arrived Sunday in Albania, a Balkan nation where Christians and Muslims endured brutal religious oppression under communism but today live and work together peacefully. (AP Photo/Hector Pustina)
Pope Francis smiles as he is driven through the crowd, in Mother Teresa Square, in Tirana, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. Pope Francis denounced that extremists around the world are "perverting" religion to justify violence as he arrived Sunday in Albania, a Balkan nation where Christians and Muslims endured brutal religious oppression under communism but today live and work together peacefully. (AP Photo/Hector Pustina)
Pope Francis waves to faithful as he is driven through the crowd, in mother Teresa square, in Tirana, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. Pope Francis denounced that extremists around the world are "perverting" religion to justify violence as he arrived Sunday in Albania, a Balkan nation where Christians and Muslims endured brutal religious oppression under communism but today live and work together peacefully. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
Pope Francis waves to faithful as he is driven through the crowd, in mother Teresa square, in Tirana, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. Pope Francis denounced that extremists around the world are "perverting" religion to justify violence as he arrived Sunday in Albania, a Balkan nation where Christians and Muslims endured brutal religious oppression under communism but today live and work together peacefully. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
Pope Francis waves to faithful as he is driven through the crowd, in Mother Teresa Square, in Tirana, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. Pope Francis denounced that extremists around the world are "perverting" religion to justify violence as he arrived Sunday in Albania, a Balkan nation where Christians and Muslims endured brutal religious oppression under communism but today live and work together peacefully. (AP Photo/Hector Pustina)
Pope Francis stands next to Albania's President Bujar Nishani during a ceremony at the presidential palace, in Tirana, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. Pope Francis arrived Sunday in Albania on his first European trip, designed to highlight the Balkan nation's path from a brutal communist state where religion was banned to a model of Christian-Muslim coexistence for a world witnessing conflict in God's name. (AP Photo/Hector Pustina)
An Albanian special forces member looks through the scope of his rifle as he stands on a roof top in Mother Teresa Square before the arrival of Pope Francis, in Tirana, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. Security was unusually tight for Francis' visit to the majority Muslim country amid reports that militants who trained in Iraq and Syria had returned and might pose a threat. The Vatican insisted no special security measures were taken, but Francis' interactions with the crowd were very different than from his previous foreign trips: His open-topped vehicle sped down Tirana's main boulevard, not stopping once for Francis to greet the faithful as is his norm. (AP Photo/Hector Pustina)
Pope Francis waves to faithful as he is driven through the crowd, in Mother Teresa Square, in Tirana, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. Pope Francis arrived Sunday in Albania on his first European trip, designed to highlight the Balkan nation's path from a brutal communist state where religion was banned to a model of Christian-Muslim coexistence for a world witnessing conflict in God's name. (AP Photo/Hector Pustina)
Pope Francis kisses a baby as he is driven through the crowd, in Mother Teresa Square, in Tirana, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. Pope Francis arrived Sunday in Albania on his first European trip, designed to highlight the Balkan nation's path from a brutal communist state where religion was banned to a model of Christian-Muslim coexistence for a world witnessing conflict in God's name. (AP Photo/Hector Pustina)
Pope Francis kisses a baby, in Mother Teresa Square, in Tirana, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. Pope Francis arrived Sunday in Albania on his first European trip, designed to highlight the Balkan nation's path from a brutal communist state where religion was banned to a model of Christian-Muslim coexistence for a world witnessing conflict in God's name. (AP Photo/Hector Pustina)
Pope Francis walks with South Korean President Park Geun-hye upon his arrival in Seoul, Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014. The Pontiff arrived in South Korea on the first papal visit to the Asian nation in a quarter century, stepping off a plane onto a red carpet and greeting the president, local Catholics and grieving relatives. During his five-day visit, Francis plans to beatify 124 Korean martyrs and encourage a vibrant and growing local church seen as a model for the future of Catholicism. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Pope Francis arrives in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014. The Pontiff arrived Thursday on the first papal visit to the Asian nation in a quarter century, stepping off a plane onto a red carpet and greeting the president, local Catholics and grieving relatives. During his five-day visit, Francis plans to beatify 124 Korean martyrs and encourage a vibrant and growing local church seen as a model for the future of Catholicism. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Pope Francis smiles as he meets journalists aboard the papal flight on the journey to Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. Pope Francis arrived Thursday in South Korea on the first papal visit to the Asian nation in a quarter century. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Pope Francis gets in a car as South Korean President Park Geun-hye, center, smiles upon his arrival at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam, South Korea, Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014. Pope Francis arrived for a five-day visit to South Korea to participate in a Catholic youth festival and to preside over a beatification ceremony for 124 Korean martyrs. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon. Pool)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - AUGUST 14: (SOUTH KOREA OUT) In this handout image provided by the Committee for the 2014 Papal Visit to Korea, people cheer as motorcades with Pope Francis onboard goes by after arriving on August 14, 2014 in Seoul, South Korea. Pope Francis is visiting South Korea from August 14 to August 18. This trip is the third trip abroad for the pope following Brazil and the Middle East. This is the third pontifical visit to South Korea. (Photo by Committee for the 2014 Papal Visit to Korea via Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - AUGUST 14: (SOUTH KOREA OUT) In this handout image provided by the Committee for the 2014 Papal Visit to Korea, motorcades with Pope Francis onboard are seen after arriving on August 14, 2014 in Seoul, South Korea. Pope Francis is visiting South Korea from August 14 to August 18. This trip is the third trip abroad for the pope following Brazil and the Middle East. This is the third pontifical visit to South Korea. (Photo by Committee for the 2014 Papal Visit to Korea via Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - AUGUST 14: (SOUTH KOREA OUT) In this handout image provided by the Committee for the 2014 Papal Visit to Korea, South Koreans cheer as motorcades with Pope Francis onboard goes by after arriving on August 14, 2014 in Seoul, South Korea. Pope Francis is visiting South Korea from August 14 to August 18. This trip is the third trip abroad for the pope following Brazil and the Middle East. This is the third pontifical visit to South Korea. (Photo by Committee for the 2014 Papal Visit to Korea via Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - AUGUST 14: (SOUTH KOREA OUT) In this handout image provided by the Committee for the 2014 Papal Visit to Korea, motorcades with Pope Francis onboard are seen after arriving on August 14, 2014 in Seoul, South Korea. Pope Francis is visiting South Korea from August 14 to August 18. This trip is the third trip abroad for the pope following Brazil and the Middle East. This is the third pontifical visit to South Korea. (Photo by Committee for the 2014 Papal Visit to Korea via Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - AUGUST 14: Pope Francis shakes hands with South Koreans upon his arrival on August 14, 2014 in Seoul, South Korea. Pope Francis is visiting South Korea from August 14 to August 18. This trip is the third trip abroad for the pope following Brazil and the Middle East. This is the third pontifical visit to South Korea. (Photo by Song Kyung-Seok-Pool/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - AUGUST 14: Pope Francis walks with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye upon his arrival on August 14, 2014 in Seoul, South Korea. Pope Francis is visiting South Korea from August 14 to August 18. This trip is the third trip abroad for the pope following Brazil and the Middle East. This is the third pontifical visit to South Korea. (Photo by Song Kyung-Seok-Pool/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - AUGUST 14: Pope Francis walks with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye upon his arrival on August 14, 2014 in Seoul, South Korea. Pope Francis is visiting South Korea from August 14 to August 18. This trip is the third trip abroad for the pope following Brazil and the Middle East. This is the third pontifical visit to South Korea. (Photo by Song Kyung-Seok-Pool/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - AUGUST 14: Pope Francis arrives at Seoul military airport on August 14, 2014 in Seoul, South Korea. Pope Francis is visiting South Korea from August 14 to August 18. This trip is the third trip abroad for the pope following Brazil and the Middle East. This is the third pontifical visit to South Korea. (Photo by Song Kyung-Seok-Pool/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - AUGUST 14: Pope Francis arrives at Seoul military airport on August 14, 2014 in Seoul, South Korea. Pope Francis is visiting South Korea from August 14 to August 18. This trip is the third trip abroad for the pope following Brazil and the Middle East. This is the third pontifical visit to South Korea. (Photo by Song Kyung-Seok-Pool/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - AUGUST 14: Pope Francis arrives at Seoul military airport on August 14, 2014 in Seoul, South Korea. Pope Francis is visiting South Korea from August 14 to August 18. This trip is the third trip abroad for the pope following Brazil and the Middle East. This is the third pontifical visit to South Korea. (Photo by Song Kyung-Seok-Pool/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - AUGUST 14: Pope Francis arrives at Seoul military airport on August 14, 2014 in Seoul, South Korea. Pope Francis is visiting South Korea from August 14 to August 18. This trip is the third trip abroad for the pope following Brazil and the Middle East. This is the third pontifical visit to South Korea. (Photo by Song Kyung-Seok-Pool/Getty Images)
Pope Francis exits the plane upon his arrival at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam on August 14, 2014. Pope Francis arrived in South Korea looking to fuel a new era of Catholic growth in Asia -- a mission fraught with complex political challenges but huge potential rewards. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis smiles upon his arrival at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam on August 14, 2014. Pope Francis arrived in South Korea looking to fuel a new era of Catholic growth in Asia -- a mission fraught with complex political challenges but huge potential rewards. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis (top L) is welcomed by schoolchildren upon his arrival at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam on August 14, 2014. Pope Francis arrived in South Korea looking to fuel a new era of Catholic growth in Asia -- a mission fraught with complex political challenges but huge potential rewards. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis (C) shakes hands with people as he is welcomed on the tarmac following his arrival at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam on August 14, 2014. Pope Francis arrived in South Korea looking to fuel a new era of Catholic growth in Asia -- a mission fraught with complex political challenges but huge potential rewards. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis (centre R) shakes hands with a nun as he is welcomed on the tarmac following his arrival at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam on August 14, 2014. Pope Francis arrived in South Korea looking to fuel a new era of Catholic growth in Asia -- a mission fraught with complex political challenges but huge potential rewards. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis (centre R) is welcomed on the tarmac following his arrival at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam on August 14, 2014. Pope Francis arrived in South Korea looking to fuel a new era of Catholic growth in Asia -- a mission fraught with complex political challenges but huge potential rewards. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis waves as he prepares to get into a car following his arrival at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam on August 14, 2014. Pope Francis arrived in South Korea looking to fuel a new era of Catholic growth in Asia -- a mission fraught with complex political challenges but huge potential rewards. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis exits the plane upon his arrival at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam on August 14, 2014. Pope Francis arrived in South Korea looking to fuel a new era of Catholic growth in Asia -- a mission fraught with complex political challenges but huge potential rewards. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis exits the plane upon his arrival at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam on August 14, 2014. Pope Francis arrived in South Korea looking to fuel a new era of Catholic growth in Asia -- a mission fraught with complex political challenges but huge potential rewards. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis exits the plane upon his arrival at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam on August 14, 2014. Pope Francis arrived in South Korea looking to fuel a new era of Catholic growth in Asia -- a mission fraught with complex political challenges but huge potential rewards. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis (R) waves as he prepares to get into a car following his arrival at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam on August 14, 2014. Pope Francis arrived in South Korea looking to fuel a new era of Catholic growth in Asia -- a mission fraught with complex political challenges but huge potential rewards. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis waves as he prepares to get into a car following his arrival at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam on August 14, 2014. Pope Francis arrived in South Korea looking to fuel a new era of Catholic growth in Asia -- a mission fraught with complex political challenges but huge potential rewards. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis waves as he prepares to get into a car following his arrival at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam on August 14, 2014. Pope Francis arrived in South Korea looking to fuel a new era of Catholic growth in Asia -- a mission fraught with complex political challenges but huge potential rewards. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
A journalist takes pictures of Pope Francis as he welcomes journalists aboard the flight to Seoul on August 14, 2014. Pope Francis arrived in South Korea looking to fuel a new era of Catholic growth in Asia -- a mission fraught with complex political challenges but huge potential rewards. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis (R) waves as he prepares to get into a car following his arrival at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam on August 14, 2014. Pope Francis arrived in South Korea looking to fuel a new era of Catholic growth in Asia -- a mission fraught with complex political challenges but huge potential rewards. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis prays for Italian journalist Simone Camilli, killed in Gaza, aboard the flight to Seoul on August 14, 2014. Pope Francis arrived in South Korea looking to fuel a new era of Catholic growth in Asia -- a mission fraught with complex political challenges but huge potential rewards. AFP PHOTO / POOL/ GREGORIO BORGIA (Photo credit should read GREGORIO BORGIA/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis prays for Italian journalist Simone Camilli, killed in Gaza, aboard the flight to Seoul on August 14, 2014. Pope Francis arrived in South Korea looking to fuel a new era of Catholic growth in Asia -- a mission fraught with complex political challenges but huge potential rewards. AFP PHOTO / POOL/ GREGORIO BORGIA (Photo credit should read GREGORIO BORGIA/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis prays for Italian journalist Simone Camilli, killed in Gaza, aboard the flight to Seoul on August 14, 2014. Pope Francis arrived in South Korea looking to fuel a new era of Catholic growth in Asia -- a mission fraught with complex political challenges but huge potential rewards. AFP PHOTO / POOL/ GREGORIO BORGIA (Photo credit should read GREGORIO BORGIA/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis (C) shakes hands with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se (L) as South Korea's President Park Geun-Hye (R) looks on, following the pope's arrival at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam on August 14, 2014. Pope Francis arrived in South Korea looking to fuel a new era of Catholic growth in Asia -- a mission fraught with complex political challenges but huge potential rewards. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis (C) walks with South Korea's President Park Geun-Hye (R) following his arrival at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam on August 14, 2014. Pope Francis arrived in South Korea looking to fuel a new era of Catholic growth in Asia -- a mission fraught with complex political challenges but huge potential rewards. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean troops fire heavy artillery to welcome Pope Francis upon his arrival at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam on August 14, 2014. Pope Francis arrived in South Korea looking to fuel a new era of Catholic growth in Asia -- a mission fraught with complex political challenges but huge potential rewards. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis walks down the stairs from his plane upon his arrival at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam on August 14, 2014. Pope Francis arrived in South Korea looking to fuel a new era of Catholic growth in Asia -- a mission fraught with complex political challenges but huge potential rewards. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis walks away after welcoming journalist aboard the flight to Seoul on August 14, 2014. Pope Francis arrived in South Korea looking to fuel a new era of Catholic growth in Asia -- a mission fraught with complex political challenges but huge potential rewards. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis walks away after welcoming journalist aboard the flight to Seoul on August 14, 2014. Pope Francis arrived in South Korea looking to fuel a new era of Catholic growth in Asia -- a mission fraught with complex political challenges but huge potential rewards. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis smiles as he poses for a selfie with Korean journalist Ae Jung Ko aboard the flight to Seoul on August 14, 2014. Pope Francis arrived in South Korea looking to fuel a new era of Catholic growth in Asia -- a mission fraught with complex political challenges but huge potential rewards. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis smiles as he welcomes journalists aboard the flight to Seoul on August 14, 2014. Pope Francis arrived in South Korea looking to fuel a new era of Catholic growth in Asia -- a mission fraught with complex political challenges but huge potential rewards. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Travellers watch a television screen broadcasting live footage of the arrival of Pope Francis, at a railway station in Seoul on August 14, 2014. Pope Francis arrived in South Korea looking to fuel a new era of Catholic growth in Asia -- a mission fraught with complex political challenges but huge potential rewards. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis listens as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivers his speech, at the Vatican, Friday, May 9, 2014. Pope Francis called Friday for governments to redistribute wealth to the poor in a new spirit of generosity to help curb the "economy of exclusion" that is taking hold today. Francis made the appeal during a speech to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the heads of major U.N. agencies who are meeting in Rome this week. Latin America's first pope has frequently lashed out at the injustices of capitalism and the global economic system that excludes so much of humanity. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano)
In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis greets U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the Vatican, Friday, May 9, 2014. Pope Francis called Friday for governments to redistribute wealth to the poor in a new spirit of generosity to help curb the "economy of exclusion" that is taking hold today. Francis made the appeal during a speech to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the heads of major U.N. agencies who are meeting in Rome this week. Latin America's first pope has frequently lashed out at the injustices of capitalism and the global economic system that excludes so much of humanity. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano)
Pope Francis listens to his speech being translated in several languages, during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014. A U.N. human rights committee denounced the Vatican on Wednesday for “systematically” adopting policies that allowed priests to rape and molest tens of thousands of children over decades, and urged it to open its files on the pedophiles and the bishops who concealed their crimes. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014. A U.N. human rights committee denounced the Vatican on Wednesday for “systematically” adopting policies that allowed priests to rape and molest tens of thousands of children over decades, and urged it to open its files on the pedophiles and the bishops who concealed their crimes. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
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BY NICOLE WINFIELD AND JUNG-YOON CHOI

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- As Francis became the first pope in 25 years to visit South Korea on Thursday, Seoul's never-timid rival, North Korea, made its presence felt by firing three short-range projectiles less than an hour before he arrived, officials said.

Although North Korea declined an invitation to Seoul for the papal visit, Francis plans to reach out to North Korea during his five-day trip in a Mass for peace and reconciliation on the war-divided Korean Peninsula. But Pyongyang has a long history of making sure it is not forgotten during high-profile events in the South.

The apparent test firing was conducted from Wonsan on the North's east coast and the projectiles flew about 220 kilometers (135 miles), according to a ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing office rules. It wasn't immediately clear what the projectiles were.

North Korea this year has conducted an unusually large number of short-range missile and artillery test firings. Pyongyang has expressed anger over annual military drills between the United States and South Korea, which it says are invasion preparations. A new round of the drills, which Seoul and Washington call routine and defensive, are expected to start in coming days.

During his visit, Francis also plans to beatify 124 Korean martyrs and encourage a vibrant and growing local church seen as a model for the future of Catholicism.

At an airport just south of Seoul, the pope shook hands with four relatives of a South Korean ferry sinking that killed more than 300 and two descendants of Korean martyrs who died rather than renounce their faith.

Some elderly Catholics wiped tears from their faces, bowing deeply as they greeted the pope. A boy and girl in traditional Korean dress presented Francis with a bouquet of flowers. The pope then stepped into a small, black, locally made car for the trip into Seoul, where he and President Park Geun-hye were expected to make speeches.

"Because our country has undergone many unfortunate situations, South Korean people are heartbroken. My wish is that the pope's visit can heal those heartbroken people," said Cho Young-rae, a 58-year-old Buddhist.

As his plane flew through Chinese airspace on the way to South Korea early Thursday, Pope Francis sent a telegram of greetings and prayers to Chinese President Xi Jinping. It was a rare opportunity for an exchange since the Holy See and Beijing have no diplomatic relations, and furthers a low-key push for better relations with China and efforts to heal a rift between the Chinese authorities and those Catholics who worship outside the state-recognized church.

Vatican protocol calls for Francis to send telegrams to heads of state whenever he flies through their airspace. Usually they pass unnoticed, but Thursday's telegram was unique because the last time a pope wanted to fly over China, in 1989, Beijing refused.

Vatican officials say there is a dialogue with Chinese authorities. But the core issue dividing them - Rome's insistence on naming bishops - remains.

Relations between Beijing and Rome have been tense since 1951, when China severed ties with the Holy See after the officially atheistic Communist Party took power and set up its own church outside the pope's authority. China persecuted the church for years until restoring a degree of religious freedom and freeing imprisoned priests in the late 1970s.

For the Vatican, the main stumbling block remains the insistence of the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association to name bishops without papal consent to administer over the country's estimated 12 million Catholics.

Other highlights of Francis' visit include his participation in a Catholic festival for young believers from around Asia. A ceremony Saturday to beatify Korean martyrs who perished for their faith from 1791 to 1888 could draw about 1 million people, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.

Authorities in North Korea declined an invitation by the Seoul archdiocese to send a delegation to attend a Mass, the Vatican said.

A few women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II will attend a Mass, although no private audience is expected, the Vatican said. The pope is also expected to meet with some families of the South Korean ferry sinking in April. The government's response to the disaster, which killed mostly high school students, has angered many South Koreans.

"A lot of bad things keep happening in our country right now, and people are going through tough times. So I hope this event can encourage people and bring more positive things to our country," said Ryun Sun-hee, a 19-year-old college student.

It's the first papal visit since Pope John Paul II traveled to South Korea in 1989. In January, Francis plans to visit Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

South Korea's church, which has been growing steadily over the last half century, is seen as a model for the future. Local church officials hope for a continuing increase in believers in a country that once welcomed missionaries to help spread the faith but now sends its own priests and nuns abroad to evangelize in other countries.

There was high anticipation in South Korea ahead of the visit. Banners and posters welcoming the pope decorated streets and subway stations. Yonhap reported an increase in sales of rosaries and other Catholic goods, and special displays of books on the pope and Catholicism have sprung up in book stores.

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Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this story.

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Visiting The Vatican
List of Previous Popes
Catholicism in Asia
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