By Elizabeth Wong Barnstead Catholic News Service
NORTHVILLE, Mich. (CNS) — When St. John Paul II canonized 103 Korean martyrs in 1984 in Seoul, South Korea, Dr. Alexius Hong was there to attend the canonization Mass.
“This will be the second pope who visits Korea,” said Hong of Pope Francis’ plans to visit South Korea from Aug. 14-18. “It’s very, very exciting.”
Pope Francis will beatify 124 Korean martyrs Aug. 16, celebrate the Aug. 17 closing Mass for the sixth Asian Youth Day, and celebrate a Mass for peace and reconciliation Aug. 18 — among other planned activities for the visit.
He is expected to meet with families of the victims of April’s South Korean ferry disaster, which killed more than 300 people; many of them were schoolchildren.
The pope also will visit a rehabilitation center for the disabled, meet with the Korean bishops and other religious leaders, and extend a courtesy visit to the president of the Republic of Korea, Park Geun-hye.
Hong, a physician in Bloomfield Hills, said that through the pope’s planned activities, “we see how much he’s trying to show his love to the people, to comfort them, to make them feel better.”
St. Andrew Kim parishioner John Lee said the visit is “a recognition of Korean Catholic people by the Vatican government.”
Lee, a Troy resident, said this visit is especially good for the youth of Korea, who “have so many temptations by the darkness and they never realize it.”
Because Pope Francis’ visit coincides with the Asian Youth Day event, Lee said he hopes the pope’s visit will encourage the young people to leave the dark and return to the light of faith. The youth day theme is: “Asian Youth! Wake up! The glory of the martyrs shines on you.”
Lee, a member of the World Apostolate of Fatima, commonly known as the Blue Army, said Korean Catholics are proud to have such strong Catholic history through the witness of the martyrs, but they must “be changed as real Catholic people.”
Additionally, Lee hopes the pope’s visit will encourage the efforts to reunify North and South Korea.
“I am sure Pope Francis will deliver the message of peace to Korea,” he told The Michigan Catholic, newspaper of the Detroit Archdiocese.
Justin Choy, who lives in Saline, said he likes how Pope Francis is a “really down-to-earth kind of guy. He’s been showing us his humility, his care for the peace of the world and he always cares about the people that are neglected and isolated.”
Choy said a few families of St. Andrew Kim Parish are flying to Korea for the visit.
“I personally think the pope is living the life of Jesus,” he said. “I just hope that the people can meet Jesus Christ through him, seeing him visiting Korea and what he’s going to be doing in Korea.”
Northville resident Gloria Choy, who will enter her senior year of high school this fall, said she could not help but think that it is “a wonderful opportunity for (Pope Francis) to visit Korea at a time like this.”
Gloria Choy said that because she is Korean America, she often compares Korean and American cultures.
“I realized a lot of Catholic teachings don’t fit into our modern teenage culture,” she said. “I’ve always thought about the saints, how it was probably easier for them because they were ‘called.'”
She added that in America, even if Catholics are not being persecuted as in the case of the Korean martyrs, the culture’s relativism teaches not to stand up for one’s faith.
“This (visit) is a very good reminder that no matter what … they can still stand up for their faith,” she said. “Even if the modern culture doesn’t fit in with the Catholic faith, they should still go by what their faith teaches.”
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Wong Barnstead is on the staff of The Michigan Catholic, newspaper of the Detroit Archdiocese.
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