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Pope Francis Surprises, Speaks English In South Korea

SEOUL, South Korea (CBSNewYork/AP) – Pope Francis did something surprising soon after arriving in Seoul, South Korea, on Thursday: He gave his first-ever speech in English.

As CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported, it’s being interpreted as practice for Francis’ trip to the East Coast next year.

Since his first public greeting after being elected pope in March 2013, Francis has favored Italian when in public, even when greeting English-speaking pilgrims.

So when the pontiff opened his five-day trip to South Korea with a speech in English, Vatican watchers took note.

“I thought it was very clear, and I was very happy about that,” Father Robert Dodaro, a Vatican expert, told Aiello. “I would have thought that he was working privately with a tutor in English and this may be the first fruit of that.”

Thirty years before becoming pope, then-Father Jorge Bergoglio studied English for three months in Ireland.

He told a biographer it didn’t go well. “The one language that always caused me big problems was English, especially its pronunciation because I am very tone-deaf,” the future pope said.

Vatican insiders believe the pope spoke English because it’s a popular second language in South Korea. But he also might be looking ahead to September 2015, when he’s agreed to visit Philadelphia for three days to attend the World Meeting of Families.

“I couldn’t help but thinking that he was trying to practice his English, hopefully with the plan of speaking in the United States in English,” Dodaro said.

The U.S. trip has not been formally announced. But the pope confirmed on the flight to Seoul he is indeed coming to the United States next year.

Francis speaks fluent Spanish, Italian and Latin. He can also speak a bit of German and French.

In his speech, Francis called for peace and unity on the war-divided Korean Peninsula and for both sides to avoid “fruitless” criticisms and shows of force.

North Korea fired three short-range projectiles into the sea off its eastern coast about an hour before Francis landed in Seoul, and two others a short while later. North Korea has conducted several such tests this year, and it also has a long history of making sure it is not forgotten during high-profile events in the South.

Neither Francis nor South Korean President Park Geun-hye referred to the firings in their speeches at Seoul’s presidential palace, and the Vatican spokesman sought to downplay the incident altogether, saying he wasn’t even sure the pope had been told.

Francis told Park, government officials and regional diplomats that peace required justice — and that justice in turn requires forgiveness, cooperation and mutual respect. He said diplomacy must be encouraged so that listening and dialogue replace “mutual recriminations, fruitless criticisms and displays of force.”

“We cannot become discouraged in our pursuit of these goals which are for the good not only of the Korean people but of the entire region and the whole world,” he said in English.

The Vatican said he would deliver at least four speeches in English on the trip.

North Korea’s apparent test firing was conducted from Wonsan on its east coast, according to a South Korean Defense Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing office rules. It wasn’t immediately clear what the projectiles were.

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