Hacktivists Fight ISIS

Nelson Lewis Anonymous

The hacktivist group “Anonymous” is known to keep their identities secret by wearing Guy Fawkes masks, made popular by the film “V For Vendetta”.

It looks like hackers across the world have decided to take the fight against ISIS to the next level: three major “hacktivist” groups, Anonymous, GhostSec and Crtlsec have collaborated to release the names of around 9,200 account names associated with ISIS.  This comes as part of the #opisis, an effort to draw attention to the growing presence of ISIS online, as well as a chance to track individuals associated with the terrorist group.  This is an historic event in the digital world, as it’s the first time that these three hacktivist groups have ever come together for something like this.  Usually, these groups are very closed off, and seldom willing to work outside of their circles.  Yet ISIS, as well as their firm control of social media, have become a large enough problem that they were willing to form an alliance to fight them.

The 9,200 accounts are all active, and in one way or another related to ISIS.  However, due to the size of this list, it’s been difficult to verify all of them.  Anonymous launched the #opisis campaign earlier this year, which they claim has already disrupted nearly one thousand websites, email accounts and VPN connections related to ISIS.  They claim that they would treat the group like a virus, and that they were the cure.  The hacktivists have been calling on the public to spread the word about these accounts, so that they can get suspended.

ISIS has extensively used social media, particularly Twitter, as a platform to spread propaganda to a worldwide audience and gain sympathizers and supporters for their vision of an “Islamic Caliphate”.  Twitter has already suspended certain ISIS-related accounts, although it hasn’t yet been effective at preventing ISIS from using the service in this manner.  ISIS used “swarm accounts” to stay active despite Twitter’s suspensions.  According to Anonymous, they create a multitude of accounts and them use them to cross-promote each other, which in turn creates a hydra-like platform.

Other sites apart from Twitter have been used to spread information, including Justpaste for text, Sendvid for videos and archive.org for retrieving propaganda content that’s been deleted by an Internet service provider.  However, Twitter serves as the system’s linchpin, since it allows the sites to keep content alive an easily accessible.  Without Twitter working as its central hub, ISIS wouldn’t be able to move around their content.  This ongoing issue of ISIS using social media to spread propaganda and gain support has recently led a US defense policy researcher to call on the US government to support Anonymous in disrupting ISIS’ accounts.

15 Great Places to Travel this Winter

With the weather raging this winter, a lot of people are probably looking for a chance to get out and go somewhere else.  And who can blame them?  Luckily, there are lots of places where you can get away from the weather.  I recently came across an article with some of the best vacations that you can take this winter, whether you’re looking for some good skiing or something warmer.

Nelson Lewis Kauai

1. Kauai, Hawaii: Although the winter usually means a lot of tourists and inflated room rates, once you see the golden beaches and gorgeous scenery, you’ll understand that the cost is 110% worth it.  The island even offers hiking on the Na Pali Coast which, although difficult, offers glorious views.

Nelson Lewis St Maarten

2. St. Martin/St. Maarten: This Caribbean island, split between the Dutch and the French, offers the unique experience of two cultures for the price of one.  The French side offers some great duty-free shopping and fine dining, while the Dutch side of the island hosts lively clubs, bars and casinos.  And no matter what side of the island you’re on, the island’s white-sand beaches are gorgeous.

Nelson Lewis Playa del Carmen

3. Playa del Carmen, Mexico: Here, the atmosphere is laid-back, the drinks are strong and there’s no shortage of golf courses.  However, you’ll need to make sure that the price is right before booking, as winter tourists can cause hotel rates to dramatically fluctuate.

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4. Queenstown, New Zealand: In New Zealand, this is currently the height of the winter season.  This scenic town offers plenty of shops and cafes, as well as intense adrenaline-pumping activities to keep any thrill-seeker occupied for a long time.

Nelson Lewis Puerto Rico

5. Puerto Rico: Here, you can enjoy the perks of the Caribbean without even needing a passport.  Attractions here range from adventurous to historic to simply relaxing on the beach.

Nelson Lewis Costa Rica

6. Costa Rica: December is the start of this country’s dry season, leaving only 70-degree temperatures to accompany you on your hike through the country’s rainforest.  If you visit in January, you’ll find the country basking in the “pura vida” while celebrating during fiesta time.

Nelson Lewis Key West

7. Key West, Florida: This makes an ideal winter getaway for anybody seeking warm weather, frozen daiquiris and chill afternoons.  Snorkeling and scuba are both huge here, and you can always hit the scenic bike trails.

Nelson Lewis Lake Tahoe

8. Lake Tahoe, Nevada: No matter the season, this is a beautiful place, so bringing a camera to capture the scenery is a must.  After you’re done skiing, you can check out the area’s exceptional dining and nightlife venues.

Nelson Lewis Bora Bora

9. Bora Bora: When you live in a part of the country regularly freezing at this time of the year, Bora Bora, with its scenic bungalows and beaches, could very well be your dream come true.  However, this paradise isn’t cheap, and you could just as easily come face-to-face with rain and mosquitoes as tropical weather.

Nelson Lewis Miami Beach

10. Miami Beach, Florida: With warm temperatures, a lively nightlife and plenty of cool hotels, Miami lives up to the hype behind it.  You can spend your day chilling at the beach or shopping at Lincoln Road Mall, and then go out clubbing all night.

Nelson Lewis Tulum

11. Tulum, Mexico: Even though this is a fairly tiny pocket of the Yucatán, Tulum nonetheless offers plenty of activity.  Not only can you visit the Mayan ruins, but you can also snorkel through the cenotes area or schedule a massage.

Nelson Lewis Whistler

12. Whistler, British Columbia: At this ski mountain 125 miles north of Vancouver, this is prime ski season.  Whistler Mountain is any skier’s dream come true, with over 8,100 acres and 200 trails.  Even if you’re not a skier, you can always hit the buzzing after-ski scene.  Just make sure that you book in advance.

Nelson Lewis Innsbruck

13. Innsbruck, Austria: In the winter, Innsbruck attracts skiers from around the world, all of them eager to try out SkiWorld, a network of nine ski resorts located around the town.  When you’re not on the slopes, the charming town has plenty to offer, as well as holiday shopping at the local Christmas market along Maria-Theresien-Strasse.

Nelson Lewis Aspen

14. Aspen, Colorado: Aspen is a paradise for winter sports.  Here, there are four main ski areas, which welcome ski fans of all skill levels, but you’ll also find yourself no shortage of interesting museums and high-end shopping.

Nelson Lewis Telluride

15. Telluride, Colorado: This fun, funky town draws thousands of visitors every year due to its array of great ski slopes.  You can spend your days running down mountains and nights warming up with a drink.  To ensure that you get the best rates, however, you need to make your travel plans several months in advance.

Google Translation App

Yesterday, Google announced major updates to its translation app that will allow users to carry on a conversation in two different languages.  The app allows users to select the two languages they’re working with, and then once the app is in conversation mode, it will take care of the rest, so that the users can have a more spontaneous and fluid conversation.  Google says that their “instant translation” update will be able to handle translation from English to and from French, German, Italian, Russian, Portuguese and Spanish, helping to dissolve the language barrier for travelers.

Nelson Lewis Interpreter

If this Google technology is everything it’s saying it is, then interpreters could soon be unnecessary.

Even in areas without any data connection or Internet service, the app is still operational in camera mode.  Snap a photo of the text you want translated, and Google will provide a translation into three-dozen different languages.  And earlier last month, Skype unveiled a preview of a similar service in English and Spanish that would allow users to converse in real-time.  Skype, which is owned by Microsoft, said that its long-term goal for speech translation is to translate as many languages as possible on as many platforms.

For a long time, online translators have been of a significantly low quality.  While they’re very good at figuring out the general idea of a sentence or paragraph, they more often than not miss various nuances, and something that sounds right in one language can sound completely bizarre in another.  Anybody who speaks a foreign language fluently knows just how online translators can butcher something in another language.  While online translators have gone a long way over the years, they’re still not perfect.  I wonder, therefore, how a live-time translation app will work, and how good the translations will be.  I also wonder if this app will eventually choose to focus on less common languages which, as the world becomes more and more globalized, could become unnecessary.  Potentially, this app could have a major effect on foreign languages as we know them.

Pablo Escobar’s Hippos

Invasive species are a huge problem to local ecosystems, as they usually mess with the flow of the environment, often at the expense of their adoptive environments.  More Nelson Lewis hipposoften than not, the animals in question are smaller creatures, such as toads, turtles or other such animals.  Yet sometimes, the problem is a lot bigger.  I recently came across an article about a problem in Colombia’s rural Antioquia Department: the hippopotamus.  How, might you ask, did such massive animals originally from thousands of miles away make it to rural Colombia?  The creatures came from the private zoo at Hacienda Napoles, the private compound of late drug baron Pablo Escobar.  After he made his millions, Escobar smuggled in various exotic animals, including four hippopotami, into Colombia for his private zoo.  After Escobar’s death, Hacienda Napoes was confiscated by the Colombian government, and Escobar’s menagerie was dispersed to zoos around the country.  That is, except for the hippos.

For about 20 years now, the hippos have remained in their adopted Colombian home, thriving and multiplying.  Nobody knows how many hippos there are in the area.  The local environmental authority estimates that their numbers range between 50 and 60, most of whom live in the lake at the park.  However, 12 are known to have paddled past the park’s flimsy fence and into the Magdalena River, which has proven as idyllic conditions for hippos.  The river is slow-moving and has plenty of shallows, making it perfect for larger animals (such as hippos).  The region also never experiences drought, which typically works to keep the population of hippos in Africa in check.  The environment is actually so great for the hippos that they’ve even started to reproduce at higher rates (and younger ages) than their cousins across the Atlantic Ocean.  All of the fertile females have been reported as giving birth to a calf every year.

The hippos have been found up to 155 miles away from Hacienda Napoles.  Not without good reason, fishermen are terrified of the creatures, and they roam the countryside at night, eating crops and even killing cows.  Despite their goofy appearance, hippos are extremely dangerous animals, highly territorial and capable of charging on land at up to 18 mph.  It’s estimated that hippos are responsible for more deaths in Africa than any other wild mammal.  Yet in Colombia, they view them as more “cuddly”, with children swimming with the animals and some people even bringing calves home.  Attacks on humans typically occur when humans encroach on hippo territory, although hippos don’t instinctively want to kill something when they see it, like crocodiles.  Therefore, in a sparsely-populated area like rural Antioquia, it might be safer to just let the hippos be.  In the 30 years that the animals have been in Colombia, there haven’t been any reports of anybody being killed or even seriously injured by the beasts.

The ideal situation would be to relocate them, although moving a hippo isn’t terribly easy.  They can’t be returned to Africa because they might be carrying diseases, so bringing them to zoos is the only real solution.  However, while some calves have been taken to zoos, nobody wants the adult hippos.  Some have suggested containing numbers by neutering males, although this would be costly, dangerous and potentially cause the chemically sensitive hippos to die.  Other suggestions include building proper hippo-proof fences to contain the animals in a reservation, although rounding up all of Colombia’s feral hippos would be a costly and difficult task.  Even more drastic suggestions have included eating the animals; when one hippo was killed in an electric fence a few years back, some locals ate him, claiming that he tasted similar to pork (hippos are known to be related to pigs).  Nonetheless, hippo meat could be infected, and systematically killing hippos would be an international PR nightmare.  Back in 2009, Colombia shot and killed one bull hippo that had been deemed a “public nuisance”, a photograph of soldiers posing next to the animal’s body caused a public outcry.

Greek Stock Market Crashes

Nelson Lewis Stock Market CrashEarlier today, the Greek stock market crashed and bond yields spiked after their government surprised investors with a snap presidential vote.  The election, originally scheduled for the new year, will now be taking place next week.  This news, announced yesterday, caused the Athens Stock Exchange to close down around 12.8 percent on Tuesday, with the yield on Greek 10-year government debt rising to 8.158 percent.  The banks of Greece were among the worst hit; the National Bank of Greece closed down around 20 percent, while Attica was down 26 percent.  Yesterday, euro zone finance ministers signaled that they were in favor of granting Greece a two-month extension to its bailout program, which they’ll be asking for on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras brought the election forward to select a new president after he failed to win EU backing over his 2015 budget.  The first of three voting rounds will be held on December 17.  A failure by Samaras to get his candidate elected for president could trigger early elections.  As a condition for an international aid program worth 240 billion euros, the Greek government has implemented unpopular austerity policies.  While the government has no desire to impose additional austerity measures, a lack of reform progress could mean that Greece doesn’t receive its last bit of aid, and an exit to their bailout program will be delayed.

Some, including former IMF board member Miranda Xafa, see this as a potential strategic move by Samaras to neutralize the threat posed by opposition parties, including the left-wing, anti-austerity party Syriza.  Earlier, Syriza declared that they would tear up the bailout agreement, refusing to make a deal with the so-called “troika” of international organizations which oversee Greece’s bailout: the European Commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank.  John Milios, an economist for Syriza and a parliament member, claimed that the presidential vote was the beginning of a process that would result in early general elections.


Netflix’s Big Mistake?

Back in 2000, a little-known entrepreneur named Reed Hastings approached Blockbuster with a partnership proposal for the company he was trying to build.  With Blockbuster at the top of the video-rental game at this time, they balked at the offer, forcing Hastings to make his own way in the dangerous world of entrepreneurship.  Yet Blockbuster would learn to regret their decision, as sales at the company soon began to falter, while Hastings’ company, Netflix, became wildly successful.  Within 10 years, it was clear that Blockbuster was going the way of the dodo.  Netflix has remained successful, even getting into producing their own TV shows, some of which, such as “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black”, have achieved major acclaim from critics and consumers alike.  One of the reasons that Netflix original series have been so successful is because they’ve been able to do their research effectively and see what kind of shows will be popular.

Nelson Lewis Marco Polo

Marco Polo and Kublai Khan talk in Netflix’s original “Marco Polo”

One new Netflix original series coming out is “Marco Polo”, set to be released on December 12.  It’s clear that the series, set to a medieval backdrop, is trying to follow the success of one of the most successful TV shows of all time, “Game of Thrones”.  The show’s first season, 10 episodes in all, cost $90 million to make, making it one of the most expensive shows in TV’s history.  Yet, according to reviews, the show is terrible.  Critics have described the show as having all of the gratuitous nudity and excessive violence that characterizes “Game of Thrones”, yet none of the depth.  It’s clear, they say, that in an effort to appeal to the largest possible audience, they succeeded in creating something that would appeal to nobody.

On paper, the creation of a “Marco Polo” show is a great idea.  Netflix has been smart to invest money in creating unique content.  While they’ve been doing well, they’ve begun to face stiff competition from rival networks, such as Amazon, HBO and FX, that are starting to limit content to their own video streaming channels.  So, if more and more networks create their own channels, and less content goes to Netflix, then there won’t be anything left to attract customers.  They’ve been wildly successful with this before, with smash hits that have attracted a huge amount of traffic to the site.  The problem with “Marco Polo”, however, is that they relied too much on data.

When Netflix committed $100 million to two seasons of “House of Cards”, they hadn’t even seen a pilot for the series.  According to their data, Kevin Spacey as an actor, combined with David Fincher as a director, would be a massive success, so they didn’t think they needed to.  And they were right.  Netflix used the same model to green light four other shows that they produced in the past few years, all of which were successful shows.  However, “Marco Polo” followed a different path, as the series was originally created for Starz before Netflix bought it following various issues.  Yet this decision was more a data-driven one as opposed to a creative one.  Looking at the success of “Game of Thrones”, it made sense to pick up a show that shared its epic scope, Medieval setting, political intrigue and bare skin.  And, coincidentally enough, they picked a show about Asia at around the same time that they’ve been trying to expand into the Asian market.

So while “Marco Polo” makes a lot of sense on paper, it doesn’t always come down to data.  No matter how good of an idea something sounds, if it isn’t properly executed, then it simply won’t work.  Of course, it seems a little harsh to rag on Netflix for just one bad show, since they’ve done so many other great things.  And despite “Marco Polo” being a flop with critics, it still could be pretty popular.  Yet there’s an interesting business lesson to be taken from this.  While big data is the future, and decisions should be data-based, relying exclusively on data is a dangerous move.

How Study Abroad Makes You Employable

Nelson Lewis Study Abroad

As cliche as it sounds, the study abroad experience really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  It helps you expand your view of the world, you become more independent and you learn more than you ever thought possible beforehand.  Not only that, but it looks great on a resume.  Nonetheless, putting everything you learned into words on a piece of paper can be a difficult.  But not all is lost: I recently came across an article that helps explain to employers the benefits of your time abroad, as well as what you gained from the experience.

Going through a study abroad application and navigating the tricky world of international travel visas requires diligence and persistency.  With so many various interviews and forms to fill out, you have to be not only determined, but also extremely self-disciplined, which serves as evidence to employers that you’re not afraid of committing to something and can see projects through to the end.  In addition, dealing with all of that paperwork means that you need to be organized, an essential skill in effectively doing ones’ job.  There are countless details that you need to plan around before you can board that plane and study abroad, such as obtaining a visa, finding a place to live and buying health insurance, all of which require careful preparation and time management skills to complete, revealing to employers that you’re both efficient and detail-oriented.

Sure, it’s a widely-used cliche, but we live in a rapidly globalizing world.  Studying abroad and constantly being around people from other countries gives you valuable intercultural communication skills, which are extremely valuable to employers, considering the modern workforce’s diversity.  Culture shock can be pretty tough, and moving into a new city in a foreign country means you need to adapt to cultural differences and effectively deal with change.  It also tests your problem-solving abilities, forcing you to be resourceful and creative wherever you are.  These are extremely valuable skills for employers, since today’s society is evolving at a breakneck pace, meaning employees need to be able to quickly adjust to new situations in unfamiliar environments.  Living among a new culture and interacting with people from various countries helps you gain different perspectives on the world around you, making you more observant of cultural differences and world issues, which gives you an ability to think about the big picture, which is a valuable asset when working on an international or large-scale project.

The study abroad experience offers numerous opportunities that you would never have a chance to experience at home, such as joining a new organization, collaborating with others or working somewhere unique.  Participating in enriching extra experiences shows a willingness to learn, while also providing you with valuable experience that can be applied to the job that you’re interested in, allowing you to stand out from the competition.  Every experience you have while studying abroad ultimately helps you learn more about yourself, as you get to know your leadership style, conflict resolution skills, strengths and weaknesses, as well as how you prepare for the unexpected.  Through a better understanding of yourself, you can learn to work better with others.

America’s Most Famous Forgettable President

Nelson Lewis Rutherford B Hayes

Rutherford B Hayes

Rutherford B. Hayes isn’t a terribly memorable President.  Really, the most interesting thing about this one-termer was that he was one of the four Presidents in US history to lose the popular vote, but still win the electoral (the other three times being John Quincy Adams in 1824, Benjamin Harrison in 1888 and, most recently, George W. Bush in 2000).  From the beginning, his Presidency was ill-fated; as part of the compromise that allowed him to take office, Hayes was only allowed to serve one term.  And during that time, he didn’t do a whole lot in the US, being reduced to nothing more than a footnote in the history books.

In another part of the world, however, Rutherford B. Hayes is a very big deal: the tiny South American nation of Paraguay.  They revere Hayes as a national hero, with cities, regions, postage stamps and even soccer teams being named in the former President’s honor.  I recently came across an article discussing this bizarre phenomenon, where a forgettable President received almost godlike adoration from a country most Americans rarely think about.

Back in 1864, the dangerously ambitious (and many would argue completely insane) President of Paraguay, Francisco Solano López, led his country into a massive war that pitted the small country against Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina in a “War of the Triple Alliance”.  The war ended in 1870, with the death of López and the victorious Triple Alliance claiming massive chunks of the defeated country.  Paraguay was devastated by the conflict; an estimated ⅔ of the country’s male population was killed in the fighting, and it took decades for the country to recover from the war’s chaos and demographic imbalance.  In 1877, when Hayes took office, the country was still reeling from its losses.  Argentina tried to claim the Chaco, a vast wilderness region in northern Paraguay.  Since there was no United Nations or World Court at this time, the two sides asked Rutherford B Hayes to mediate the dispute.

When asked to mediate the dispute, Hayes sided with Paraguay, giving the country 60 percent of its current territory and, in the eyes of many Paraguayans, helped to guarantee this tiny South American nation’s survival.  Amongst Paraguayans, Hayes is now regarded as an immortal figure.  In the city of Villa Hayes, named in the President’s honor, there is a museum where his portrait hangs, and there’s a copy of his handwritten decision favoring Paraguay.  The day the decision was signed, November 12, 1878, is now a holiday in the city of Villa Hayes.  Many Paraguayans are astounded that in the US, so few people know (or care) about President Hayes.

Boko Haram and Nigeria Declare Ceasefire

According to the Nigerian military, they have agreed to a ceasefire with the Nelson Lewis Boko HaramIslamic extremist group Boko Haram.  As part of this agreement, the schoolgirls that the group abducted earlier in the year will be released.  So far, Boko Haram has made no comment on the incident.  This marks a significant breakthrough to 5 years of fighting, which has cost the lives of some 2,000 civilians this year alone.

After a group of Christian schoolgirls were abducted by Boko Haram, it sparked international outrage, leading to a campaign to “bring back our girls”.  So far, people are “cautiously optimistic” about the deal.  According to the Nigerian government, the negotiations were sealed after a month of talks, mediated by Chad.  As part of the agreement, Boko Haram has assured that they’ll release the girls they captured, which would be finalized at another meeting next week.

While Boko Haram would not be given territory under the ceasefire agreement, the government has yet to reveal what concessions it did make with the group.  Nigerian officials hadn’t mentioned that they were undergoing negotiations with Boko Haram, making this an extremely surprising development.  Many Nigerians are skeptical about the announcement, especially since there had been no definitive word from the Islamists.  In the past, the army had been known to release statements about the conflict in northeast Nigeria which contradicted the actual situation.

Back in May 2013, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan imposed a state of emergency in northern Nigeria, vowing to crush the Islamist insurgency.  The insurgents, who believe that Muslims are forbidden to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society, have increased their attacks throughout the year.  They frequently target schools and colleges, which they regard as a symbol of Western culture.  Human Rights Watch reported that over 2,000 civilians were killed in the first half of the year, while Amnesty International estimated that 4,000 people were killed in the violence in the first seven months of the year.

Boko Haram is looking to develop an Islamist state in Nigeria, much like ISIS, but its fighters frequently cross into neighboring countries; the region where they operate borders Chad, Cameroon and Niger.  Earlier today, eight Cameroonian soldiers and over 100 Boko Haram militants were killed fighting in the far north of Cameroon.  Due to the threat that the militants pose to the security of the region, Nigeria, Chad and Niger agreed to form a 2,800-strong regional force to tackle them back in July.

Pope Francis’ Visit to South Korea

Pope FrancisAt the start of a five-day visit to South Korea, his first trip to Asia, Pope Francis has called for peace and unity on the war-divided Korean peninsula, asking for both sides to avoid “fruitless” conflict and offering a message of reconciliation.  About an hour before Francis landed in Seoul, North Korea fired three short-range projectiles into the sea off its eastern coast, followed by two others shortly thereafter.  So far this year, North Korea has conducted several such tests, and has a long history of making sure that South Korea doesn’t forget about its neighbor.

Neither Francis nor South Korean President Park Geun-hye have referred to the firings in their speeches at Seoul, and the Vatican spokesman looked to downplay the incident by saying he wasn’t even sure that the Pope had been told.  In his speech to South Korea, Francis told Park, government officials and regional diplomats that peace requires justice, which in turn requires forgiveness, cooperation and mutual respect, and diplomacy must be encouraged so that listening and dialogue could replace the current situation.  This was also the first speech in which Francis spoke in English; he typically speaks either in Italian or his native Spanish, although the Vatican said that he would deliver his speeches in English to accommodate Asian audiences.

North Korea has expressed its anger over annual military drills between South Korea and US, which it claims to be preparations for invasion.  The US and South Korea, on the other hand, insist that such drills are merely “routine and defensive”, and shall be conducting a new round of them in a few days.  This Saturday, Francis shall beatify 124 Korean martyrs who founded the first Catholic church in the area in the 18th century, in hopes that he can give South Korea’s growing church new models for holiness and evangelization.  Upon landing in Seoul, Francis stepped into a small, black Kia car that shocked many in the status-conscious city, where such a car would be considered too humble for somebody of the Pope’s stature.  However, Francis prefers simple cars.

Francis’ main reason for visiting South Korea is to participate in an Asian Catholic youth festival.  Tomorrow, he shall be traveling to Daejeon for his first encounter with the thousands of Catholics who have flocked to South Korea for the Asian version of World Youth Day.  However, organizers said that many Chinese Catholics were prevented from coming to the event.  This was due to the tense relations between China and the Vatican, who haven’t had diplomatic ties since 1951.  However, there was a small breakthrough overnight after Francis sent a telegram of greetings to Chinese President Xi Jinping as he flew through Chinese airspace.  The last time a Pope tried to get to South Korea was in 1989, when St. John Paul II was refused permission to fly over China.

Park said that he hoped the Pope’s presence would help heal the division between North and South Korea, which is still deeply affecting both countries; the border between the two countries is one of the most heavily-guarded in the world.  There has been a lot of anticipation in South Korea ahead of the visit; banners and posters welcoming Francis decorated streets and subway stations, and there has been a spike in the sales of rosaries and other Catholic goods, while special displays of books on the Pope and Catholicism have sprung up in book stores.