WASHINGTON, Aug. 14 (UPI) -- Pope Francis landed in South Korea Thursday bringing a message of peace, even as North Korea greeted his visit by firing off several short-range projectiles.
The pope's visit to Seoul is his first trip to Asia, and marks the first time a pontiff has visited the country in 25 years as the church seeks to welcome the growing number of Catholics in the region. Some 5.4 million South Koreans are members of the Catholic Church, more than 10 percent of the population.
His busy five-day schedule includes beatifying 124 Korean martyrs, celebrating the gathering of Catholic youth with the 6th Asian Youth Day, and urging peace between the two Koreas at a Holy Mass for Peace and Reconciliation.
As I begin my trip, I ask you to join me in praying for Korea and for all of Asia.— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) August 13, 2014
North Korea, meanwhile, shot off three short-range rockets less than an hour before Francis landed in Seoul, and two more in the afternoon. While it declined the pope's invitation to Seoul for the visit, Pyongyang makes a habit of aligning its test firings and other displays when high-profile events occur in the south, which it says are a response to "provocations" from the South and U.S.
The test firing was conducted from Wonsan, on the North's east coast, and the rockets flew about 135 miles toward open water.
In a speech addressed to South Korean President Park Geun-hye and other senior officials, Francis called for "stability of the entire area and indeed of the whole war-weary world."
"Diplomacy... is based on the firm and persevering conviction that peace can be won through quiet listening and dialogue, rather than by mutual recriminations, fruitless criticisms and displays of force," he said.
The pope appeared to put those goals into motion Thursday, when he sent a telegram to leaders in Beijing while crossing through Chinese airspace.
While the telegrams are traditional whenever the pope flies over a country, the Vatican maintains no ties with Beijing. The last time a pope visited Asia, the papal plane was forced to avoid Chinese airspace, but, in what a church spokesman called "a sign of detente," Pope Francis was given permission to cross through on this trip.