Pope makes biggest gesture yet to China, eyes ties

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Pope makes biggest gesture yet to China, eyes ties
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

HAEMI, South Korea (AP) - Pope Francis made his strongest gesture yet to reach out to China on Sunday, saying he wants to improve relations and insisting that the Catholic Church isn't coming in as a "conqueror" but is rather a partner in dialogue.

Francis outlined his priorities for the Catholic Church in Asia during a meeting of about 80 of the region's bishops, urging them to engage with people of different cultures empathetically.

"In this spirit of openness to others, I earnestly hope that those countries of your continent with whom the Holy See does not yet enjoy a full relationship may not hesitate to further a dialogue for the benefit of all," he said.

Then deviating from his text, he added: "I'm not talking here only about a political dialogue, but about a fraternal dialogue. These Christians aren't coming as conquerors, they aren't trying to take away our identity." He said the important thing was to "walk together."

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the pope's remarks were "obviously a sign of goodwill for dialogue" with China as well as the other countries in Asia with which the Vatican doesn't have diplomatic relations: North Korea, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, Bhutan and Brunei. "This offer of the pope for dialogue is to all these lands and not just one, even if China is the biggest," he said.

He acknowledged that Francis has so far refrained from making any outwardly political statement about China, which counts some 12 million Catholics, but that the speech was a clear affirmation of a desire for dialogue. It was also a message to the region's bishops that they can sow the seeds for dialogue through charitable works and educational services even before official diplomatic relations with the Holy See are established.

China cut relations with the Vatican in 1951, after the 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. The Vatican under then-Pope Benedict XVI sought to improve ties by seeking to unify the state-sanctioned church with the underground church still loyal to Rome.

Vatican-China ties have already broken new ground on Francis' first Asian trip, with Beijing agreeing to let Francis' Alitalia charter fly through its airspace; when St. John Paul II last came to South Korea in 1989, Beijing refused to let him fly overhead. With the fly-by confirmed, Francis sent the traditional greetings he sends to the leadership of countries he flies over. That said, there have been reports that some Chinese Catholics who wanted to participate in the Asian Catholic youth festival here were prevented from coming.

For the Vatican, the main stumbling block in relations remains the insistence of the official Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association on naming bishops without papal consent. For China, the naming of bishops is a matter of its national sovereignty, while it also objects that the Holy See has diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

Lombardi sought to stress that the Vatican was always open to dialogue, and was not interested in questions of political sovereignty. "Authorities have not to fear the Holy See as a power that comes to exercise its foreign powers in the land, but is a religious authority that is of another order than the political and civil authorities," he said.

There was no immediate response Sunday from Beijing authorities - either from the government or the Patriotic Association. But earlier in the week, after the pope's greetings to China's leadership were sent, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, told the government's China Daily that "we have noticed the remarks of Pope Francis."

"China has always been sincere in improving relations with the Vatican and has been making positive efforts for that," she said. The comments don't appear on the government website, however.

The church in North Korea is under tight government control and is not recognized by the Vatican. Organizers of the papal trip had invited a delegation from the North to attend a Mass that Francis is celebrating on Monday for peace and reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula, but Pyongyang authorities declined the invitation.

In other communist nations such as Vietnam, governments exert tremendous control over the Catholic Church. There are 6 million Roman Catholics in Vietnam, the second-largest Catholic community in Southeast Asia after the Philippines, but tensions have existed for decades over church property seized by the Communists and other issues.

Francis' diplomatic outreach Sunday followed another gesture of solidarity earlier in the morning: He baptized the father of one of the victims of the sinking of a South Korean ferry that killed more than 300 people, most of them high school students.

Lee Ho Jin took the Christian name "Francis" during the rite, which the pope administered in the Vatican's embassy in Seoul, according to Lombardi.

Lee had been one of a dozen relatives of victims and survivors of the April ferry sinking who met privately with the pope Friday. He asked to be baptized and Francis agreed.

Francis has gone out of his way to show support for the families of the victims of the ferry sinking, who are demanding an independent inquiry into the tragedy. Aside from meeting publicly and privately with them, he has worn a symbolic yellow ribbon on his cassock in solidarity for three straight days.

Lombardi has said Francis isn't getting involved in the families' demands for a parliamentary inquiry, but is merely offering them support and prayers. He said Francis was particularly pleased to have been asked to perform a baptism since Korea's Catholic Church has been growing steadily thanks in large part to an unusually high number of adult baptisms each year.

Francis' final event Sunday was to close the Asian Youth Day festival with a Mass in a 15th century fortress in Haemi, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) southwest of Seoul, where some 132 Korean martyrs were tortured and killed in the 18th and 19th centuries.

A steady rain turned the castle grounds into giant mud puddles, but the skies cleared by the time Francis arrived and was greeted by the enthusiastic crowd.

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