Pope Francis has said that Asia would be a priority in his pontificate, and he will be visiting the region again next month, when he visits Japan and Thailand in November. The pontiff has spoken about a desire in his youth to serve as a missionary in Asia, but he never got the opportunity with the Jesuits.
His visit will highlight two countries in Asia where miniscule Catholic populations live in peace with non-Christian majorities, hopefully as models for their neighbors, where the religious majority often sees the continent’s Christian population as a threat to their power.
Anti-Christian persecution has long been a problem in authoritarian communist countries in the region: North Korea is considered to be the worst place on Earth to be a Christian, and the communist parties in China and Vietnam try to keep their local churches under the thumbs of apparatchiks.
Even the Philippines – one of only two majority-Catholic countries in the region has seen an upsurge in violence after a relative calm following a peace deal with the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Of course, the most famous prominent Islamist attack was the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka which left over 250 people dead, and 500 others injured.
This is where Pope Francis’s trip itinerary could prove to be a masterstroke.