Pope's S. Korea visit brings rare opportunity

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Pope's S. Korea visit brings rare opportunity
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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BEIJING (AP) - Pope Francis' greeting to Chinese President Xi Jinping as he flew to South Korea early Thursday marked a rare cordial exchange between the sides that have no diplomatic relations and are embroiled in a sometimes bitter contest for authority.

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.

"Upon entering Chinese air space, I extend best wishes to your excellency and your fellow citizens, and I invoke the divine blessings of peace and well-being upon the nation," the pope's message said.

China's Foreign Ministry did not immediately reply to faxed questions about the pope's greeting and any Chinese response. While no Chinese officials are taking part in the visit, individual Chinese Catholics, including the many studying in South Korean seminaries and universities, were expected to attend events.

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

"These are friendly gestures, but I wouldn't expect any breakthroughs," said Anthony Lam of the Holy Spirit Study Center in Hong Kong that closely monitors the church in mainland China.

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.

The sides had forged a tacit agreement to appoint mutually acceptable bishops, a way for them to unify the state-approved church with underground congregations that remain loyal to Rome. That broke down in 2010 when Beijing named to office one rejected by the Vatican, bringing another round of angry invective from Chinese religious authorities.

Ties hit another nadir when China carted away the bishop of Shanghai on the day of his 2012 ordination after he publicly renounced membership in the Patriotic Association, shocking and angering officials. The bishop, Thaddeus Ma Daqin, has not been seen in public since and is believed to be confined to Shanghai's Sheshan Seminary.

Beijing's rhetoric has cooled in the 17 months since both Xi and Francis took office, with the Argentine pope saying he has written to Xi and received a response. Media close to the Vatican also said the sides met in June, although no details were released.

And in the first real test of ties since Francis became pope, the Vatican has yet to indicate its acceptance of Tang Yuange who was appointed bishop of the southwestern city of Chengdu in May. Xi, the son of a revered communist elder, has also yet to make his personal views on Vatican ties - or religion in general - public.

While China's state media largely ignored the pope's visit, brief reports about the first-ever papal flight over China and extending of greetings were posted to the popular Twitter-like Weibo microblog site - an indication they weren't a censored topic.

The popular Global Times tabloid also carried a round-up of foreign media reports on the issue, along with comments from Chinese expert on Vatican diplomacy Kong Chenyan calling it a "positive development" in China-Vatican relations.

However, Kong said China remained unhappy with what it sees as the Vatican's lack of respect for Chinese sovereignty, its relations with Taiwan, and lingering resentment over the canonization of saints viewed by the ruling party as enemies of the Chinese people.

___

Associated Press reporter Nicole Winfield contributed to this report from aboard the papal jet.

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