SEOUL, South Korea
- In South Korea, pope calls for peace, democracy and social justice
Starting his first visit to Asia, Pope Francis urged South Korean political and civic leaders to seek peace on their divided peninsula and strengthen their nation's commitment to democracy and social justice. "
Peace is not simply the absence of war, but the work of justice," the pope said Aug. 14 in a speech at Seoul's Blue House, the official residence of President Park Geun-hye. Addressing some 200 government officials, Pope Francis noted that the country, divided between North and South since the end of the Korean War in 1953, "has long suffered because of a lack of peace," and he praised "efforts being made in favor of reconciliation and stability." Introducing the pope before his speech, President Park said the war "still casts a shadow" over Korea, "dividing not only the country but so many families." Tensions with communist North Korea have risen markedly in recent years, especially over Pyongyang's development of nuclear arms. Less than an hour before the pope's plane landed in Seoul, North Korea fired three short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan in the latest of a large number of missile tests it began launching in March.
Pope tells Korean bishops to keep evangelization as primary mission
Pope Francis warned South Korea's Catholic bishops not to let their country's "prosperous, yet increasingly secularized and materialistic society" distract the church from its essential duty to evangelize. Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, the southern half of the peninsula has risen from poverty to become the world's 13th-largest economy -- good fortune that Pope Francis said posed cultural and spiritual perils. "In such circumstances, it is tempting for pastoral ministers to adopt not only effective models of management, planning and organization drawn from the business world, but also a lifestyle and mentality guided more by worldly criteria of success, and indeed power, than by the criteria which Jesus sets out in the Gospel," the pope said Aug. 14 at the headquarters of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea. Pope Francis met with the bishops on the first day of a five-day trip to South Korea, his first pastoral visit to Asia. Earlier in the day, he met privately with South Korean President Park Geun-hye. The pope told the bishops the life and mission of the Korean church must be measured in the "clear light of the Gospel and its call to conversion to the person of Jesus Christ."
At stadium Mass, pope tells Koreans to resist materialism
Celebrating Mass before some 50,000 people, Pope Francis prayed that Christian values overcome demoralization in economically successful societies. "The hope held out by the Gospel is the antidote to the spirit of despair that seems to grow like cancer in societies which are outwardly affluent yet often experience inner sadness and emptiness," the pope said Aug. 15 in his homily at the World Cup Stadium in Daejeon. The pope voiced his hope that Christians in South Korea, the world's 13th-largest economy, might "combat the allure of a materialism that stifles authentic spiritual and cultural values and the spirit of unbridled competition, which generates selfishness and strife. May they also reject inhumane economic models which create new forms of poverty and marginalize workers, and the culture of death which devalues the image of God, the God of life, and violates the dignity of every man, woman and child," he said. Just before he dressed for the Mass, Pope Francis met outside the sacristy with 10 people involved in the April Sewol ferry disaster. Some were survivors of the incident that left 300 people, mostly teens, dead; some were relatives, and a few priests were among the group. The pope embraced and blessed them, placing his hand on their heads. Some wiped away tears.
Pope says forgiveness key to reconciling divided Korea
Addressing young people from Korea and other Asian countries on their concerns about the future, Pope Francis said the best hope for reunification of the divided Korean peninsula lay in brotherly love and a spirit of forgiveness. "You are brothers who speak the same language," the pope said Aug. 15. "When you speak the same language in a family, there is also a human hope." The pope's remarks came in response to a question from a young Korean woman, Marina Park, attending an Asian Youth Day gathering in Solmoe, about 60 miles south of Seoul. Park asked the pope how young South Korean Catholics should view communist North Korea after six decades of "reciprocal hatred" between the two countries. "Are there two Koreas?" Pope Francis asked in response. "No, there is one, but it is divided, the family is divided." To promote reunification, the pope said he had one piece of advice to offer and one reason for hope. "My advice is to pray, pray for our brothers in the North," he said, "that there might not be victors and defeated, only one family." He then led the audience of some 6,000 people in silent prayer for Korean reunification.
Asian youths inspired after pope spends extra time with them
DANGJIN, South Korea
About 6,000 young people from 30 Asian countries had Pope Francis all to themselves for several hours Aug. 15. The youths said they felt inspired after Pope Francis went off script to answer questions from pre-selected participants, watched a re-enactment of a modern-day prodigal son and also sat down to lunch with a small group at the Asian Youth Day conference in the Daejeon Diocese. The tent at the Solmoe Holy Ground crackled with music, cheering and the excitement of teens and young adults. Pope Francis said he would stay beyond the allotted time so he could answer young people's questions. To wild cheers, the pope asked the young people whether they were ready to be God's witnesses. "Are you ready to say yes? Are you ready?" he asked. The crowd screamed, "Yes!" Alexander John of Pakistan told reporters his heart started beating "double time" when he learned he was selected for the sit-down lunch with the pope. The youth minister from the Karachi Archdiocese called the meeting a "dream come true. He really made my day, he really made my life," said John, 27.
800,000 watch as pope moves 124 Korean martyrs closer to sainthood
Pope Francis placed 124 Korean martyrs on the last step toward sainthood in a beatification Mass Aug. 16 that brought elation to the 800,000 people in attendance. The sun was searing as Bishop Francis Ahn Myong-ok of Masan, president of the commission for the beatification, asked the pope to pronounce the martyrs blessed. After hearing a brief collective biography of 124 of the original founders of the Korean Catholic Church, Pope Francis pronounced the formula of beatification. With his words, trumpets blared and a huge swath depicting a watercolor of the newly blessed martyrs in heaven was unfurled on the side of a large building facing the square where the faithful gathered. People laughed and cheered as the image also popped up on the giant video monitors along the more than one-mile stretch. "It was very great to see Papa Francis," Sophia Moon, 26, told Catholic News Service. "He was very touching to us because in Korea there have been very hard times and there were (people who became martyrs)." The 124 were killed for their beliefs, setting off a 100-year period in the 18th and 19th centuries when the Korean government went after about 10,000 faithful who pledged filial piety to God, not the king of Joseon. Among this group was Paul Yun Ji-Chung, the very first Korean to be executed for his faith after he buried his mother using Catholic rites that completely went against the norms of the heavily Confucian society.
Pope meets and honors Korean laypeople, religious and disabled
KKOTTONGNAE, South Korea
Pope Francis visited a set of Korean Catholic institutions exemplifying some of his highest priorities for the church, including engagement of laypeople and dedication to the needy. The pope's Aug. 16 visit to the hilltop complex of the Kkottongnae community, about 60 miles south of Seoul, included time with disabled children and adults, speeches to members of religious orders and lay activists, and a moment of silent prayer at a symbolic cemetery for aborted children. It took place on the third day of his five-day visit to South Korea. "To assist the poor is good and necessary, but it is not enough," the pope told about 150 leaders of various Catholic lay organizations. "Multiply your efforts in the area of human promotion, so that every man and every woman can know the joy which comes from the dignity of earning their daily bread and supporting their family." Such dignity, the pope warned in an off-the-cuff addition to his prepared text, was currently under threat from a prevalent "culture of money." Pope Francis paid tribute to the Korean church's unique tradition of lay leadership. All but one of the 124 martyrs he beatified earlier that day in Seoul were lay Catholics.
Pope calls on Catholics to dialogue with China, other Asian societies
Speaking at the execution site of anonymous Korean martyrs, Pope Francis told Catholic bishops and young laypeople from across Asia to evangelize their continent through dialogue and openness, even with others suspicious or intolerant of the church. But he also urged them to challenge aspects of their cultures incompatible with Christian values. The pope spoke Aug. 17 at Haemi Castle, about 60 miles south of Seoul, where thousands of Catholics were imprisoned and tortured during the 19th century, and at a nearby shrine commemorating those killed. "On this vast continent which is home to a great variety of cultures, the church is called to be versatile and creative in her witness to the Gospel through dialogue and openness to all," Pope Francis told several hundred Asian bishops, leaders of the church in a region that is only 3 percent Catholic. The pope then offered an example of his desired approach. "In this spirit of openness to others, I earnestly hope that those countries of your continent with whom the Holy See does not yet enjoy a full relationship may not hesitate to further a dialogue for the benefit of all," the pope said. Fittingly, Pope Francis started the day by baptizing a Korean man, Lee Hojin, in a brief ceremony at the nunciature in Seoul where the pope has been staying. Lee, whose son was among more than 300 people killed in the April sinking of the Sewol ferry, met the pope Aug. 15 along with other family members and survivors of the disaster. He told the pope he had been preparing for two years to become a Catholic and now wanted the pope to baptize him. Lee took the baptismal name of Francis. The pope has shown special concern for the Sewol case; for three days in a row, in a remarkable departure from papal custom, he has worn a yellow-ribbon pin commemorating the victims.
Pope tells Asians to witness to Christ in all aspects of life
SEOSAN, South Korea
Pope Francis told young Asian Catholic leaders to witness to Christ in everything they do. During his homily on the muddy grounds of Haemi Fortress, Pope Francis urged more than 40,000 people -- including young Catholic leaders from 22 Asian countries -- to "reflect God's love." He reminded them it was their "right and duty to take part in the life of (their) societies.... Do not be afraid to bring the wisdom of faith to every aspect of social life," the pontiff said. He also urged them to discern "what is incompatible with your Catholic faith ... and what aspects of contemporary culture are sinful, corrupt and lead to death." Young people are always choosing their social lives over other things, and this makes it complicated to "grow up in their faith also," said Montira Hokjareon, a youth coordinator in Thailand's Udon Thani Diocese. She said it was especially hard for young Thai Catholics to practice their faith in a predominantly Buddhist country where less than half of 1 percent of the population is Catholic. Hokjaroen, 34, was one of 20 participants who had lunch with Pope Francis Aug. 15. She told Catholic News Service it was good he nudged the youth leaders to evangelize, "because I think the people will learn (about) Jesus through us." Pope Francis emphasized the theme of this year's gathering, "Asian Youth Wake Up, the Glory of the Martyrs Shines on You." "It's no good when I see young people who sleep," said the pontiff. "No. Wake up! Go! Go!"
Charity, forgiveness keys to Korean reunification, says pope
Pope Francis told Korean Catholics that the reunification of their divided peninsula as well as the harmony of South Korean society depend on the practice of Gospel virtues, especially charity and forgiveness. God's promise to restore unity and prosperity to "a people dispersed by disaster and division ... is inseparably tied to a command: the command to return to God and wholeheartedly obey his law," Pope Francis said. In a homily Aug. 18, during a Mass for peace and reconciliation at Seoul's Myongdong Cathedral, Pope Francis said Jesus asked people "to believe that forgiveness is the door which leads to reconciliation. I ask you to bear convincing witness to Christ's message of forgiveness in your homes, in your communities and at every level of national life," he said. "Thus our prayers for peace and reconciliation will rise to God from ever more pure hearts and, by his gracious gift, obtain that precious good for which we all long," he said. The Mass was closed to the public. Guests included South Korean President Park Geun-hye, women who were sold into sexual slavery during World War II, North Korean defectors, those whose families were kidnapped and taken to North Korea and 12 clerics from various faiths.
Hundreds brave rain to try to get final glimpse of pope in South Korea
Hundreds of Catholic faithful and non-Catholic admirers of Pope Francis braved the pouring rain to try to get a glimpse of him outside his final Mass before he left South Korea. On a street in the popular shopping district of Myongdong, in downtown Seoul, people jostled each other with umbrellas. A video monitor was set up, but it faced just one side of the block. The bystanders were all hoping for a glimpse of Pope Francis at the end of the Aug. 18 Mass for peace and reconciliation, when he was expected to pass by in a covered vehicle in the downpour. Joanna Seo and her family sang along to a Korean hymn about reconciliation as they stood in a circle watching the Mass on a wireless device. She told Catholic News Service she was grateful for a chance to see "Papa Francesco. I am a very grateful Christian because I think this is (a) very big issue in Korea," said Seo, 23. "I (would be) very happy if North and South Korea become one." The two sides have been at odds for more than 60 years since their country was carved in half by communist and non-communist factions.
Pope talks airstrikes in Iraq, his health, possible U.S. visit
ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM SEOUL, South Korea
Pope Francis said the use of force can be justified to stop "unjust aggressors" such as Islamic State militants in northeastern Iraq, but he declined to endorse U.S. military airstrikes against the militants and said such humanitarian interventions should not be decided on by any single country. The pope also said he was willing to travel to the war zone if necessary to stop the violence. Pope Francis made his remarks Aug. 18 during an hourlong inflight news conference on his way back from South Korea. In response to other questions, the pope acknowledged a need to lighten his work schedule for the sake of his health; said he might make a combined visit to the U.S. and Mexico in 2015; and explained why the Vatican is still studying whether the late Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero should be beatified as a martyr. The pope's words on Iraq came a week after his representative in Baghdad welcomed President Barack Obama's decision to use military force against Islamic State positions. Asked about the airstrikes Aug. 11, Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, the Vatican nuncio to Iraq, told Vatican Radio: "This is something that had to be done, otherwise (the Islamic State) could not be stopped." That statement surprised many because, since the pontificate of St. John Paul II, the Vatican has stressed that military interventions for humanitarian purposes should have the support of the international community.
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