Pope to visit S Korea in August: officials

SEOUL - Pope Francis will make a five-day visit to South Korea in August, officials confirmed Monday.

The Pope will arrive on August 14 and is scheduled to meet South Korean President Park Geun-Hye, and will participate in a gathering of young Asian Roman Catholics to be held in the central city of Daejeon, Park's office said.

The pontiff is also set to attend a ceremony to beatificate 124 Korean martyrs who were killed for their beliefs between 1791 and 1888, the South's Catholic church said.

"The papal trip will provide an opportunity to spread a message of love and peace across Northeast Asia," a presidential spokesman said in a statement.

Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-Jung, the archbishop of Seoul, said the trip would promote peace on the divided Korean peninsula and bring hope to "poor and alienated" people.

"We hope the papal trip will contribute to inter-Korean reconciliation and peace," he said in a statement.

Bishop Peter Kang U-Il, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea, said the visit would be a "first stride toward world peace".

"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 in a statement quoted by Korea's Yonhap news agency.

The two Koreas remain technically at war because the 1950-53 conflict ended in a ceasefire, not a peace treaty.

South Korea has more than five million Catholics in its 50-million population.

Asia has been tipped as a destination for possible papal trips as Francis's predecessor Benedict XVI did not travel there during his eight-year pontificate and evangelisation on the continent is a big priority for the Vatican.