Hundreds brave rain to try to get final glimpse of pope in South Korea
By Simone Orendain
SEOUL, South Korea (CNS) — 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.
In communist North Korea, the state-run Catholic Association is not part of the Vatican hierarchy. Organizers of the pope’s visit to South Korea had invited people from the association but they declined, citing joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea that started the same day as the papal Mass.
The Mass also drew non-Catholics who stood on the sidewalk listening to the celebration over a loudspeaker, then hung around to watch the pope drive away.
Michael Suhany, who describes himself as a Reformed Baptist from Warsaw, Indiana, stopped en route to his teaching job. He told CNS seeing Pope Francis would be a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity.
“I appreciate the impact that the Catholic Church has around the world,” said Suhany, who lives just outside Seoul. “And in particular, what this pope stands for, I think, is very important for Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant alike.”
Julia Kim beckoned a reporter to take shelter under her big umbrella. She said she was waiting outside the cathedral so she could “say goodbye to him, and I want to pray for him.”
Kim told CNS she was among the 800,000 faithful who attended the beatification Mass of 124 martyrs Aug. 16. She said on the week before Pope Francis’ visit, she traveled some 85 miles south to Haemi Fortress, the site of the persecution of thousands of Catholics in the 18th and 19th centuries, just to pray for him. On Aug. 17, Pope Francis celebrated the closing Mass for Asian Youth Day at the fortress.
When the pope’s convoy approached, Kim crossed herself, put her hand on her heart and waved. Once it was out of site, she crossed herself again.
Charity, forgiveness keys to Korean reunification, says pope
By Francis X. Rocca and Simone Orendain
SEOUL, South Korea (CNS) — 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.
Before the Mass, the pope met with seven “comfort women,” who were forced into prostitution by the Japanese before and during World War II. One woman gave the pope a butterfly pin symbolizing their call for justice, and the pope wore the pin during the Mass.
Outside the clergy changing room, near a portrait of Mary, was a crown of thorns made of barbed wire from the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas.
“My visit now culminates in this celebration of Mass, in which we implore from God the grace of peace and reconciliation,” Pope Francis said from an altar decorated with rows of pink and white roses. “This prayer has a particular resonance on the Korean peninsula. Today’s Mass is first and foremost a prayer for reconciliation in this Korean family.”
The pope suggested the need for reconciliation lay not only between South Korea and the communist North, which have been divided since the end of the Korean War in 1953, but within South Korea itself, the world’s 13th-largest economy, where prosperity has brought increasing inequality.
“God’s urgent summons to conversion also challenges Christ’s followers in Korea to examine the quality of their own contribution to the building of a truly just and humane society,” he said.
The pope urged Korean Catholics to “show evangelical concern for the less fortunate, the marginalized, those without work and those who do not share in the prosperity of the many” and to “firmly reject a mindset shaped by suspicion, confrontation and competition.”
“Let us pray, then, for the emergence of new opportunities for dialogue, encounter and the resolution of differences, for continued generosity in providing humanitarian assistance to those in need, and for ever greater recognition that all Koreans are brothers and sisters, members of one family, one people,” he said.
Before the Mass, Pope Francis met with Buddhist, Orthodox, Lutheran and other Protestant leaders. He asked them to pray for him, and said: “I believe that we have to walk together with other brothers and sisters in the presence of God. And so I am sincerely grateful for all of the leaders of various religions. It is a path that we walk together.”
Bishop Peter Kang U-il of Jeju, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea, said the bishops held a small farewell party for the pope before he left for the airport to return to Rome. He said the last thing Pope Francis said to the bishops was “Please pray for me.”
Seoul Auxiliary Bishop Basil Cho Kyu-man said when he watched Pope Francis, he thought, “Oh this is how Jesus Christ approached the poor in the past.” He said he believed the pope had planted a seed of faith. that the bishops need to nourish.
Pope tells Asians to witness to Christ in all aspects of life
By Simone Orendain
SEOSAN, South Korea (CNS) — 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.”
Rain threatened the Aug. 17 closing Mass for Asian Youth Day, which, unlike the massive international World Youth Day events, focuses more on youth leaders. At one point, the wind whipped off the pope’s cap.
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!”
Haemi Fortress was where thousands of Catholics were killed during a 100-year period in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the 1700s laypeople formed the church based on Catholic writings that they got ahold of from China. The original founders pledged loyalty to God rather than the Korean king, which was socially unacceptable. The government pursued them for carrying out Catholic rites and baptisms, killing 10,000 faithful in the century beginning in 1791.
A day before the closing Mass, Pope Francis beatified 124 of the founders of the Korean Catholic Church, moving them a step closer to sainthood.
Michael Hwang of Seoul said being on these grounds was “exhausting emotionally,” because his ancestors were among those executed. But he told CNS he was glad to be a part of Asian Youth Day because it brought him closer to other Catholics from Asia.
“(The pope) said to wake up and a lot of people can come together, and we could be like one nation,” said Hwang, a 17-year old high school student.
Hwang said his friends are not Catholic, “but I think Catholicism is a great thing and I can tell to my friends about how (being) Catholic is great, and this event will be a great background to teach or tell other people.”
Stephen Borja of Manila, Philippines, told CNS the founding of the church in Korea “is such a unique story, and it really touched me. How passionate they were about receiving the faith, standing up for it, even giving up their lives for it.”
Borja, 34, works with the youth commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. He said the pope’s words inspired him to show his faith to others, which is still a challenge in his predominantly Catholic country.
The three characteristics the pope identified for the church in Asia are “holier, more missionary and humbler,” he said. “Those are words I would carry with me and also with my work in the church.”
Pope Francis celebrated Mass at an altar made up of 16 wooden crosses that locked together like wooden blocks and were decorated by the youth. Readings and intercessions were in Filipino, Indonesian, Korean and other languages.
“As young Christians, whether you are workers or students, whether you have already begun a career or have answered the call to marriage, religious life or the priesthood, you are not only a part of the future of the church, you are also a necessary and beloved part of the church’s present,” said the pope.
He told young Asian to build “a church which loves and worships God by seeking to serve the poor, the lonely, the infirm and the marginalized.”
Bishop Peter Kang U-il of Jeju, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea, noted that this was the first Asian Youth Day attended by a pope.
“The young Asians may have experienced an extraordinary moment of grace, and they also may have acquired the seed of courage and hope for their future, because Your Holiness shared a great affection and intimacy with them,” he told Pope Francis at the Mass.
Organizers announced Indonesia would host the 2017 Asian Youth Day.
Pope calls on Catholics to dialogue with China, other Asian societies
By Francis X. Rocca
SEOUL, South Korea (CNS) — 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. It was the last full day of his visit to Korea, the first of his pontificate to Asia.
“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.
His statement was most obviously an overture to China, which has not had formal relations with the Vatican since shortly after the country’s 1949 communist revolution.
It was the latest of Pope Francis’ several diplomatic gestures to Beijing since the start of his trip to Korea. During the papal flight from Rome Aug. 14, he sent a telegram of prayers and greetings to China’s President Xi Jinping. Two days later, in a question-and-answer session with young people, the pope notably declined to answer a man from Hong Kong who asked how to help Catholics in China, where he said “control and oppression” were increasing as the church on the mainland grew.
China requires Catholic communities to register with the government-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association, which has ordained bishops without the approval of the pope, and Chinese authorities have frequently arrested Catholics who reject government control.
Speaking with reporters after the pope’s speech, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, noted that the Vatican does not have diplomatic relations with several Asian countries, including North Korea, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, Brunei and Bhutan.
“This offer of the pope of dialogue is related to all these lands, and not just China, even if China is the biggest, as we know,” Father Lombardi said.
In an off-the-cuff addition to his original text, Pope Francis evoked the attitude he hoped such countries would adopt to the church: “These Christians don’t come as conquerors, they don’t come to take away our identity. They bring us theirs, but want to travel with us.”
“Some will ask for baptism, others will not, but we will always travel together,” 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 Francis told the Asian bishops that dialogue required “empathy and sincere receptivity,” but also, as a “fundamental point of reference,” a clear sense of “our identity as Christians.”
“If we are to speak freely, openly and fruitfully with others, we must be clear about who we are, what God has done for us, and what it is that he asks of us,” he said.
The pope said Christian identity is constantly tempted by the “spirit of the world” in a number of ways, including relativism, which leads people to “forget that in a world of rapid and disorienting change, there is much that is unchanging, much that has its ultimate foundation in Christ, who is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
The pope returned to the theme of Christian identity, though without using the term, when he addressed more than 40,000 Asian Youth Day participants at the event’s closing Mass later in the day.
“The Asian continent, imbued with rich philosophical and religious traditions, remains a great frontier for your testimony to Christ, the way, the truth and the life,” he said. “You have a right and a duty to take full part in the life of your societies. Do not be afraid to bring the wisdom of faith to every aspect of social life.
“You see and love, from within, all that is beautiful, noble and true in your cultures and traditions. Yet as Christians, you also know that the Gospel has the power to purify, elevate and perfect this heritage,” he told the young people. “You can appreciate the many positive values of the diverse Asian cultures. You are also able to discern what is incompatible with your Catholic faith, what is contrary to the life of grace bestowed in baptism, and what aspects of contemporary culture are sinful, corrupt and lead to death.”
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Contributing to this story was Simone Orendain.
800,000 watch as pope moves 124 Korean martyrs closer to sainthood
By Simone Orendain
SEOUL, South Korea (CNS) — 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.
In his homily, the pope said, “So often we today can find our faith challenged by the world, and in countless ways we are asked to compromise our faith, to water down the radical demands of the Gospel and to conform to the spirit of this age.”
“Yet the martyrs call out to us to put Christ first and to see all else in this world in relation to him and his eternal kingdom. They challenge us to think about what, if anything, we ourselves would be willing to die for,” he said.
Seyeon Jeong, 26, told Catholic News Service she had an 18th-century ancestor who “actually sacrificed himself as a Catholic” but was not among the newly blessed.
“I was born a Catholic and I have been living as a Catholic, but through this Mass I can actually realize the meaning, I mean the full meaning of what the sacrifice meant here,” she said. “I could actually feel my ancestor’s spirit.”
Pope Francis credited the martyrs with showing the “importance of charity in the life of faith,” since their belief in the “equal dignity of all the baptized” led them to challenge the “rigid social structures of their day.”
Moments before the Mass, the pope personally greeted the faithful as he traveled via popemobile along the stretch from Seoul’s City Hall to Geongbok Palace, the backdrop of a temporary altar. Geongbok is described by South Korea’s tourism bureau as the grandest of the Joseon-era palaces.
Among those who attended the Mass were about 300 U.S. military personnel and 400 family members of the victims of the Sewol ferry accident, which left more than 300 dead in April.
The Sewol group had been protesting at the square for weeks, demanding that a special law be passed for an independent investigation into the accident. They were determined to remain during the beatification Mass in hopes of an encounter with the pope. After days of negotiations, the committee handling the pope’s visit granted access, and they got their wish.
When Pope Francis swung by on the popemobile, many called out to him, pointing at the family members and one grieving father who had been on a hunger strike for more than a month.
Kim Young-oh, father of a teenage girl who died in the capsized ferry, told CNS the pope grabbed his hands and, because a fence separated them and he could not hug the pope, he laid his forehead twice on the pope’s hands.
Kim said he asked to give him a letter and the pope nodded and tucked it into his cassock.
“I was really prepared to meet the pope and (spell) out that there is a strong need for this bill, and we’re really fighting for this bill,” said Kim through an interpreter. “And after this long time on this (hunger) strike I kind of succeeded (by) meeting the point person. I saw real hope.”
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Contributing to this story was Francis X. Rocca.
Pope meets and honors Korean laypeople, religious and disabled
By Francis X. Rocca
KKOTTONGNAE, South Korea (CNS) — 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.
But the pope alluded to the possibility of tension with clergy, asking his audience to “work in complete harmony of mind and heart with your pastors, striving to place your own insights, talents and charisms at the service of church’s growth in unity and missionary outreach.”
The Kkottongnae community was founded in the 1970s by Father John Oh Woong Jin, a member of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, and now operates in 10 countries outside Korea. The complex Pope Francis visited includes a retreat center, a spirituality training institute, a university specializing in social work and rehabilitation centers for disabled children and adults.
The pope’s first event at the complex was a meeting with about 70 disabled adults and children, some of them in wheelchairs or hospital beds. Before going inside, he removed his shoes as a sign of respect, according to custom at the center. He stopped and greeted the patients one by one, embracing them or placing his hands on their heads for a blessing, and watched a brief dance performance by the children.
A small boy in a wheelchair greeted the pope with a bouquet of flowers, which the pope placed at the foot of a statue of Mary. For the rest of his visit to the rehabilitation center, he wore a necklace of flowers he had been given.
Pope Francis spent the better part of an hour with the disabled, longer than planned, then visited the Garden of Aborted Children, where crosses mark the symbolic graves of the unborn. The pope prayed there with Brother Lee Gu-won, a missionary who was born without arms or legs and was abandoned at birth.
To get back on schedule, the pope canceled a celebration of vespers with members of religious orders, at which he had been scheduled to read an opening greeting and a closing benediction in Korean.
“There is no time,” the pope told the religious, almost all of them women, as he pointed to his watch with a smile.
But in a speech to the religious, the pope urged them to reaffirm their vows of chastity, poverty and obedience.
“Mature and generous obedience requires that you cling in prayer to Christ who, taking the form of a servant, learned obedience through what he suffered,” he said. “There are no shortcuts: God desires our hearts completely.”
“Chastity expresses your single-minded dedication to the love of God,” the pope said. “We all know what a personal and demanding commitment this entails. Temptations in this area call for humble trust in God, vigilance and perseverance.”
The pope’s strongest words concerned threats to the vow of poverty, as he warned against “all things which can distract you and cause bewilderment and scandal to others.”
“The hypocrisy of those consecrated men and women who profess vows of poverty, yet live like the rich, wounds the souls of the faithful and harms the church,” the pope said. “Think, too, of how dangerous a temptation it is to adopt a purely functional, worldly mentality which leads to placing our hope in human means alone and destroys the witness of poverty which our Lord Jesus Christ lived and taught us.”
At stadium Mass, pope tells Koreans to resist materialism
By Francis X. Rocca
SEOUL, South Korea (CNS) — 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.
One man, who had been preparing for two years to become a Catholic, said he had suffered deeply because his son had died in the ferry disaster. He said he had walked hundreds of kilometers, round trip, from his town to the site of the accident, on a type of pilgrimage.
He asked the pope to baptize him, and Pope Francis agreed to baptize him privately at the nunciature Aug. 16, before the Mass to beatify 124 Korean martyrs.
At the end of Mass, before praying the Angelus, the pope mourned those killed when the Sewol sank.
“May this tragic event, which has brought all Koreans together in grief, confirm their commitment to work together in solidarity for the common good,” he said.
Pope Francis’ sobering words stood in contrast to the ebullience of the crowd, and of the pope himself, as he entered the stadium in an open-sided popemobile. The pope had traveled the 85 miles from Seoul by train instead of helicopter as originally planned. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said authorities thought the train would be safer because of rainy weather. The spokesman said Pope Francis had never ridden a high-speed rail and welcomed the experience.
As he entered the stadium, he was greeted by thousands of people performing the wave and holding signs of welcome, including a banner reading “we love you” in Italian.
The day was overcast but warm and humid, with temperatures reaching the mid-80s. Before the Mass, members of the congregation were asked not to fan themselves with the hats or booklets during the liturgy. Many women wore white lace veils, a tradition still widely practiced in Korea.
The pope celebrated the Mass, for the feast of the Assumption, in Latin, with the readings and responses in Korean. He delivered his homily in Italian.
Pope says forgiveness key to reconciling divided Korea
By Francis X. Rocca
SEOUL, South Korea (CNS) — 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.
To illustrate his reason for hope, Pope Francis cited the Old Testament story of Joseph, who forgave and fed his brothers even though they had sold him into slavery.
“When Joseph’s brothers went into Egypt to buy food because they were hungry, they found a brother,” he said. “Joseph noticed that they spoke the same language.”
The pope also cited the Gospel parable of the prodigal son, a familiar reference in his preaching. A group of young performers had enacted the parable onstage a few minutes earlier.
The prodigal son’s father embraced his repentant son immediately, “he didn’t let him speak, he didn’t even let him ask for pardon,” the pope said. “He celebrated.”
“We can do very ugly things, but please don’t despair,” he said. “There is always the Father who waits for us.”
Pope Francis’ answer was not part of the original program for the afternoon event, which called for him to read a prepared text in English, only the third time as pope that he has used the language before a live audience.
But with his usual tendency to improvise, the pope departed from his text and shifted into Italian to reply to the young people.
He also answered the question of a young Cambodian woman, Leap Lakaraksmey, who said she was trying to choose between entering religious life and continuing her university studies in order to help the poor in her native village.
“When the Lord calls, he always calls us to do good for others,” the pope said. “But you shouldn’t choose. The Lord chooses. You have to ask: ‘Lord, what should I do?'”
The pope also assured the young woman, who lamented the lack of canonized saints from her country, that he would ask the Congregation for Saints’ Causes to look into the possibility of recognizing the martyrdom of Catholics killed in Cambodia in the 1970s by the communist regime under Pol Pot.
Pope Francis notably did not answer the other person who had been allowed to question him publicly at the event: a young man from Hong Kong, Giovanni Pang, who asked how to help Catholics in China, where he said “control and oppression” were increasing as the church on the mainland grew.
China requires Catholics to register with a government-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association, which has ordained bishops without approval of the pope, and Chinese authorities have frequently arrested members of the so-called underground or clandestine Catholic communities there. According to unconfirmed reports in Korean media, some Chinese Catholics planning to attend events with Pope Francis had been prevented from traveling to South Korea.
After the event, Pang told reporters that the pope had assured him he would be praying for China.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters Pope Francis had chosen to avoid “political” topics such as China at an event whose character was supposed to be “pastoral.”
The pope appeared at the Solmoe event following a lunch with Asian Youth Day participants from various countries and a visit to the reconstructed birthplace of St. Andrew Kim, the first native-born Korean priest, who was martyred in 1846 at the age of 25.
On his way into the tent set up for his meeting with young people, the pope was greeted with cheers and outstretched hands, many holding tablets and cell phone cameras. Before stepping up to the stage, he stopped and allowed one member of the audience to attach a yellow-ribbon pin to his cassock.
The pin has been adopted by family members of those killed in the April sinking of the Sewol ferry, some of whom the pope met earlier in the day, who are pressing the South Korean government to appoint an independent investigation of the disaster.
Editors: Contributing to this story was Simone Orendain.
Asian youths inspired after pope spends extra time with them
By Simone Orendain
DANGJIN, South Korea (CNS) — 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.
Duc Dinh Nguyen, 28, told Catholic News Service that after he arrived in Seoul from Vietnam three years ago to get a degree in biology, he got swept up with how convenient life could be. “It made me (forget) God. I missed him.”
“After this event, my faith will be stronger,” he said.
After the Q-and-A session, a group of South Korean delegates danced to a pop song composed for the Asian Youth Day conference.
Lauren Kim said she “felt very blessed” when Pope Francis asked for a moment of prayer for the unification of North and South Korea.
“What impressed me the most was he said we have the same language,” Kim, a 19-year-old international relations major, told Catholic News Service. “And language has the power (to change the problems) we have in our divided nation. Especially I’m interested in solving those problems. I’m hoping I can use his knowledge and try to expand knowledge from what he told us.”
The Aug. 13-17 Asian Youth Day brought together youth leaders from about 30 countries to focus on formation and spiritual life. Solmoe Holy Ground is the birthplace of St. Andrew Kim Taegon, the first Korean priest, who was executed for his faith during a time of persecution of 10,000 Catholics.
St. John Paul II canonized St. Andrew Kim and 102 other martyrs in 1984. The day after meeting the young people, Pope Francis was to beatify 124 martyrs at a Mass in Seoul.
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