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Pope prays for peace but North Korea fires projectiles

South Korea News
15 Aug 2014, 11:35 GMT+10

SEOUL, South Korea - Pope Francis on the first day of a five-day South Korea trip prayed for peace in the war-divided peninsula but the North made its presence felt by firing at least five projectiles ahead of the pontiff's visit.

The Pontiff began his visit to Seoul by making a public speech in English for the first time and riding inside a compact Kia hatchback to the Vatican Embassy, according to ABCNews.com

The Pope read a 10-minute speech in English at the Presidential office in Seoul. The speech was punctuated by expressions of hope for reconciliation in the Korean Peninsula.

"I came here thinking of peace and reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula," the Pope told President Park Geun-hye.

Park had earlier in the morning received him at a military airport, often used by visiting heads of state to South Korea where the Catholic Church is growing.

It currently has just over 5.4 million members, some 10.4 percent of the population.

In the speech addressed to Park and senior officials, the Pope said peace and good ties between the North and South Koreas had implications for "the 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.

He urged Koreans to lead by example for future generations. "I think it is especially important for us to reflect on the need to give our young people the gift of peace," he said.

Ahead of the Pope's arrival here, North Korea fired at least five short-range rockets off its east coast.

But that didn't hinder Pope who is set to lead a Mass in Seoul on Saturday.

The Pope also plans to attend Asian Youth Day, a gathering of young Catholics, and to beatify 124 Catholics who were killed amid religious persecution in the 19th century.

The visit comes as South Korea has faced troubling times with the country still grieving over the loss of more than 300 people, mostly teenagers, in the April 16 ferry disaster.

At a brief welcoming ceremony at the airport on his arrival, the Pope met with the father of Park Seong-ho, an 18-year-old student who died in the ferry sinking.

He also met with three other people who lost family members. He offered consolation to the families.

"My heart aches for you.I remember the victims," the Pope said.

He held the hands of the relatives, some of whom were in tears during the meeting, according to local reporters.

President Park slammed North Korea in her address. "Catholics in North Korea had been stripped of their assets, religious leaders kidnapped and murdered," she said at the welcome ceremonial speech.

The South Korean government is "trying best to follow the road of peace, instead of war and nuclear weapons," she stressed.

"We trust the pope's wish is also a denuclearized Korean peninsula."

Before touching down in Seoul, Pope Francis sent an unprecedented message of goodwill to China.

"Upon entering Chinese air space, I extend best wishes to your Excellency and your fellow citizens and I invoke the divine blessing of peace and well-being upon the nation," he said in a radio message to President Xi Jinping.

The Chinese government had granted permission for Francis' plane to fly through Chinese airspace on his way to South Korea. The Vatican and China do not have diplomatic relations.

The Vatican has had no formal relations with China since shortly after the Communist Party took power in 1949.

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