Pope Francis Holds First Public Mass in South Korea

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Pope Francis celebrated Mass on Friday before a rousing stadium audience on the second day of a five-day trip that will also see him meet with Asian youth.


The Mass, celebrating the feast of the Assumption, was held in the packed Daejeon World Cup Stadium, which has a capacity of about 50,000 people. The audience included survivors and family members of those who died in the Sewol ferry sinking. Banners on the roads leading to the stadium called for the pope to remember the victims.


Participants in the Mass arrived at the stadium at dawn and waited for four hours for the ceremony to start. While they waited, a master of ceremonies led the crowd in an enthusiastic wave around the stadium.

 

he Mass in Daejeon, the pope's first in public in South Korea, took place on the country's independence day, the 69th anniversary of the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II. North Korea, through its state media, marked the surrender anniversary by firing three short-range missiles into the sea just before the pope's plane landed in Seoul.

Underscoring the national theme, a children's choir, wearing Korea's colorful traditional hanbok dresses, sang Arirang, a folk song considered the unofficial anthem.

 

A disco-era Korean pop star, Insooni, warmed up the crowd with an upbeat set that featured backup dancers and a rapper, while Grammy-winning soprano Jo Sumi performed. Both are Catholics. In South Korea, many prominent celebrities and pop stars are practicing Catholics.


The crowd cheered and chanted "Viva Papa!" when the pope entered the stadium in a Popemobile specially made by Kia. Many waved handkerchiefs in the white and yellow colors of the Vatican.

 

Thousands of followers attend a mass conducted by Pope Francis at Daejeon World Cup Stadium.Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Do Hyang-sook, a 50-year-old who has been a Catholic since she was a child, came with her sister from Wonju, a city southeast of Seoul. Upon seeing the pope, she said, "I'm so happy that I want to cry."


Later in the day, the pope will meet with young people at a shrine at Solmoe, which honors a Korean martyr who was also the first ordained priest on the peninsula. The meeting is part of a multiday Asian Youth Day celebration, the main reason for the pope's trip to South Korea.

 

The trip, which is the first by Pope Francis to Asia and the third by a pope to Korea, aims to highlight the importance of the region to Vatican hopes to spread the faith on the continent with the smallest percentage of Catholics. The visit with Asian youth is a key part of Pope Francis' efforts to energize the Catholic Church by reaching out to young people.

 

"The trip is to Korea, but the real destination is all the countries on the continent, thanks to the Asian youth celebrations," said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican's Secretary of State, who is traveling with the pontiff, in an interview with the Vatican's television last week. In participating in the youth celebrations, "the pope is speaking to the future of Asia."


During the Mass, the pope remembered the victims of April's ferry sinking, which left more than 300 people dead.

 

Before he leaves on Monday, the pope is expected to meet with some "comfort women," Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery by Japanese soldiers during World War II. He will also hold a Mass of peace and reconciliation for the divided peninsula.


The Solmoe shrine the pope will visit later Friday was built to honor St. Andrew Kim Taegon, Korea's first ordained priest, and is a pilgrimage site for Korean faithful.


The Korean church stands out for its large number of martyrs, whose persecution and execution laid the base for one of Asia's most vibrant Catholic churches, dubbed by some the "Asian tiger" of the Catholic Church. On Saturday, the pope will preside over a ceremony to beatify 124 Korean martyrs in the 18th and 19th centuries, an event that could draw as many as a million participants.


The beatification could offer the pope a chance to comment on the serious problems facing Christians in other parts of Asia and in the Middle East.


Pope Francis has frequently spoken out against the persecution of Christians, particularly in the Middle East, and sent a senior cardinal this week to northern Iraq to deliver humanitarian aid to local minorities, including Christians, who have been fleeing violence and persecution there. Before his departure from Rome on Wednesday, the pope sent a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki moon, appealing for international action to stop the suffering of religious minorities in Iraq.


During his homily Friday, the pope spoke of what he described as the dangers of economic inequality and the excesses of capitalism, a theme that could resonate in South Korea, where rapid economic growth has brought social problems.


"May [Koreans] combat the allure of a materialism that stifles authentic spiritual and cultural values and the spirit of unbridled competition which generates selfishness and strife," he said. "May they also reject inhumane economic models which create new forms of poverty and marginalize workers." "We are willing to continue working with Vatican through constructive dialogues to promote bilateral relations," she said.


Francesco Sisci, a senior researcher at the Center for European Studies at Beijing's People's University, said thousands of Chinese Catholics could possibly travel to South Korea to see the pope, despite news from the organizers of the youth celebrations that a small number of young Chinese Catholics were prevented from traveling there.


"The fact that they're blocking some Catholics, Rome was not built in a day," Mr. Sisci said.


If China allows large numbers to openly make the pilgrimage, it would be considered a positive gesture toward the Church. Many of China's estimated 12 million Catholics have the wherewithal to fly to Seoul, while South Korea is particularly friendly to Chinese tourists and the flight takes only 100 minutes from Shanghai.


By the end of his stay, the pope will have delivered 10 speeches, including four in English, a rarity for a pontiff who virtually always uses Italian for his public appearances. In a gesture of appreciation to the Vatican staff, he has brought a Holy See switchboard operator with him for the trip.

 

Deborah Ball and Jonathan Cheng

(Min Sun Lee contributed to this article.)

Source: online.wsj.com (Aug. 15, 2014)

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