WHEN Pope Francis visits South Korea, on August 14-18, he will take part in Asian Youth Day with delegates from some 30 countries, preside over the beatification of 124 Korean martyrs and meet with President Park Geun-hye.
South Korea is one of Asia’s major economies, with a small but growing Catholic Church.
It is also half of a divided peninsula, where nuclear-armed communist North Korea presents an ongoing threat.
All of these factors promise to make the pope’s visit important and newsworthy.
Now, informed observers are speculating that the pope might add another destination to his first Asian trip – one that would mark the voyage as truly historic.
Adding a stopover in the People’s Republic of China – with which the Holy See has not had diplomatic relations for more than 60 years – would represent an extraordinary variation in the careful planning typical of papal travel.
But Pope Francis has proven willing to improvise audaciously in the most diplomatically sensitive situations, as when he stopped to pray at the Israeli-built security barrier in the West Bank during his late-May visit to the Holy Land.
Spending a mere half-day in Beijing, which sits on the flight path from Seoul to Rome, the pope could easily visit the city’s Catholic cathedral and the nearby tomb of his Jesuit confrere Matteo Ricci, the 16th-century missionary to China whose cause for sainthood was reopened in 2010.