Hatimaye China yamruhusu Papa Francis kutumia anga lake

In what's seen as a sign of thawing relations, China is allowing Pope Francis to use its airspace to fly to South Korea today. 

The Vatican hasn't had formal relations with China since 1949, when the communists took charge.

"The fact that he is being allowed to cross Chinese airspace at all - Pope John Paul II had to skirt it in his tours of Asia - is seen as a positive, if small, step forward," Reuters reports.

From Rome, NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports:
"Travelling popes send routine greetings to heads of states of the countries they fly over. But the message Francis sends to Chinese leaders will be carefully analyzed.

"During his stay, the pope is not expected to visit the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas, but his message of peace and reconciliation will also be aimed at the estimated 200,000 to 400,000 Christians still living in hardship in North Korea.

"The visit's highlights will be a Asian Catholic youth festival and the beatification of 124 martyrs.

"South Korea has a vibrant Catholic community, with more than 100,000 people baptized annually. Francis is also expected to meet a group of Korean women the Japanese used as sex slaves during World War II."

There are an estimated 12 million Catholics in China, according to The Wall Street Journal, which notes that many attend underground churches. Those who worship openly do so under the authority of a state-run group of bishops, separate from the Vatican.

This year, China has been seen trying to stop Christianity's spread. In one province, more than 100 churches, some of them Catholic, have been served with demolition notices since winter ended. While some were razed, others were left standing after having their crosses removed.

via The NPR