Manila's archbishop says Asia has a special spot in the heart of Pope Francis, who looks forward to visiting the region to encourage Christians, especially those suffering or being persecuted.

Catholics have long been a minority in Asia, with the Philippines the most notable exception. But the Vatican sees Asia as a place for strong growth for the Catholic church. Pope Francis will travel to South Korea next month to beatify 124 Korean martyrs. In January, he is scheduled to visit the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle said Monday that as a young Jesuit, Pope Francis had an unfulfilled wish to be a missionary in Japan. Shortly after being elected as pope, he told Tagle that he wanted to visit and encourage Christians in Asia.