VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis will make his first trip to Asia in August, visiting South Korea to participate in a Catholic youth festival, preside over a beatification ceremony for 124 Korean martyrs and bring a message of peace to the war-divided peninsula, officials said.
The Aug. 14-18 trip announced Monday by the Vatican will be Francis' second foreign visit this year after his brief visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories in May.
Francis told reporters last summer en route home from his first foreign trip to Brazil that he wanted to go to Asia because Pope Benedict XVI never managed to get to the continent, aside from a quick trip to Turkey in 2006.
The visit will mark the first time in 25 years that a pope has visited the Korean peninsula. Pope John Paul II last visited in 1989 and he canonized 103 Korean martyrs during a 1984 trip.
Francis last month cleared 124 other Korean martyrs for beatification and is expected to preside over the ceremony himself during the trip, South Korea's Yonhap news agency and the Vatican-affiliated missionary news agency AsiaNews reported.
Yohhap quoted Bishop Peter Kang U-il, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea, as saying the visit will also help bring peace to the peninsula. The two Koreas have been in a near-constant standoff since an armistice ended the Korean War in 1953.
"I think his choice of the divided Korean peninsula as the destination of his first Asian trip came out of his aspiration for peace on the peninsula and the rest of the world and his hope to pray together with Asian youths," Kang said, according to Yonhap.
Foster Klug contributed from Seoul.
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