But the real goal is longer-term and much wider-ranging. The pope will bring a message about the “future of Asia”, and will use his trip to “speak to all the countries on the continent”, the Vatican’s number two, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said in a television interview.
The last papal visit to Asia was by John Paul II to India in 1999, a glaring 15-year gap for a region where the Church is making some spectacular gains but where Catholics still only account for 3.2 per cent of the population.
The pope’s flight to South Korea took him over China — potentially the greatest prize of all, but also the hardest to claim. Beijing maintains a state-controlled Catholic Church, which rejects the Vatican’s authority.