Thursday's CBS This Morning stood out for zeroing in on the plight of Catholics in China, as it covered Pope Francis's trip to South Korea. Seth Doane noted the Pope's overflight of the communist country, and pointed out how "that's significant, because the last time a pope wanted to fly through Chinese airspace was in 1989, and Beijing refused the request." The Pope at that time, St. John Paul II, took a vocal stance against the communist regime in his native Poland.
Meanwhile, ABC's Good Morning America and NBC's Today touted the Pope "making history" with his trip, as he is the first pontiff to visit South Korea in 25 years. Both newscasts also hyped the temporary Popemobile – something that CBS This Morning left out of its coverage: [MP3 audio available here; video below]
AMY ROBACH: We begin with Pope Francis making history. This morning, he became the first pope to visit South Korea in 25 years. As he arrived, North Korea fired several short-range missiles into the sea. The Pope later telling the crowd in Seoul that peace requires forgiveness and mutual respect. But on social media today, far more people were talking about the humble car the Pope chose for his visit. That's a small Kia appropriately named 'the Soul.'
On Today, NBC's Ann Thompson touted how "South Korea is buzzing about the Pope's wheels on this trip – the modest and compact Kia Soul. He rode that vehicle to the presidential residence today, where he gave his first speech in English – focusing on peace and reconciliation on this divided peninsula." Thompson also broke some news about the Bishop of Rome's answer to a question that she asked:
ANNE THOMPSON: ...Peace was also on the Pope's mind as he flew here – asking for a moment of silence for the Associated Press journalist that was killed in Gaza. And on the plane, Francis appeared to give a boost to hopes of a U.S. papal visit. In Italian, I asked him if he would to come to Philadelphia, He said, yes, and he mentioned World Family Day. That will take place in the City of Brotherly Love next year. But Francis is here for Asian Youth Day, and he will meet with young people tomorrow, as well as families of the victims of that horrible ferry tragedy here in April.
Doane led his report on CBS This Morning by highlighting that "the Vatican is said to be focusing more and more across the region – really, across Asia, where likely, membership numbers for the Church are on the rise. That even may include China. And when you're the Pope, you can send a message simply in the path your plane travels." After noting the communist Chinese government's 1989 move against Pope John Paul II, he continued by summarizing the current status of the Church inside the country:
SETH DOANE: ...Despite an estimated 12 million Catholics there, China does not have diplomatic relations with the Vatican. It hasn't since the Communist Party took over in 1949. Today, as is customary for each country he flies over, the Pope sent a telegram to China's president, Xi Jinping. It read, 'Upon entering Chinese airspace, I extend best wishes to your Excellency and your fellow citizens, and I invoke the divine blessings of peace and well-being upon the nation."
In China, the majority of Catholics worship in underground churches. Another five and a half million are members of the official Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which does not let the Vatican appoint bishops.
Yang Guangyun's family has been Catholic since the Yuan dynasty 700 years ago, when missionaries first came to China. (clip of Yang Guangyun speaking in foreign language) 'I hope China and the Vatican could reach common ground,' she said, 'and one day, the Pope will visit China.'
Back in March 2013, shortly after Pope Francis's election, CBS correspondent Wyatt Andrews refreshingly spotlighted the ongoing persecution of the Catholic Church in China on CBS This Morning. Though he didn't explicitly label the Chinese government as communist, as Doane did, Andrews noted how "millions of the faithful worship in groups at home, praying in underground churches where religion, if practiced too openly, can lead to arrest."