Pope Francis’ success on Asian media
The Asian media has welcomed Pope Francis’ trip to Korea, that has just ended, with utmost attention and, only in few cases, coldness. Columnists of the various newspapers in the continent have reported and given peculiar interpretations of events and gestures that Pope Francis made in Seoul.
The Pope is, obviously, top news in the Korean press. The Korea Herald celebrates the Pope as “he leads by example”, whilst the “historical visit” is interpreted by The Korea Times – as well as by other national media – with tones that sometimes touch upon triumphalism, but also share the perspective of a “call for forgiveness and unity towards North Korea”. The Seoul newspaper takes stock of the Papal visit by using four key words: youth, martyrs, consolation, Asia. For each of these realities – it is noted – Francis has left a message or a meaningful gesture, that will remain “cornerstones” of the Christian faith in the East.
The South China Morning Post, a prestigious Chinese-language newspaper of Hong Kong, has followed Pope Francis’ visit to Korea with various articles and reports, pointing out the masses of faithful (more than 800 thousands) who attended the Mass for the beatification of the martyrs. According to an article in the comment section of the most read newspaper of the South-east, one of the most relevant events of the trip is “the unprecedented message sent to China”. On the other hand, it is reported that half of the 100 Chinese young people who wanted to attend the Asian Youth Day have been stopped due to “bureaucratic complications”. News reports on other newspapers of continental China are instead reduced to a minimum; China Daily, for instance, reports only that the Papal trip has come to an end.
Singapore’s The Strait Times, a newspaper that monopolises the countries facing the South China See, interprets the essential aspect of the Pope’s visit as dialogue, one of the most universally appreciated and practiced values in Asia, by believers of every religion. The outlook of dialogue, reports the newspaper, “must refer in particular to nations such as China and North Korea”, but also to all the conflict situations in Eastern Asia. Francis was appreciated for his “creative approach”, that he showed through words and actions and that the Pope has wished to become a mark of distinction for all Catholics in the vast Asian continent.
For the Filipino newspaper Inquirer, the most widely read in Manila, the most memorable impression of the Papal pilgrimage is the appeal for peace, which makes Francis’ visit to Korea a prelude to the following Papal trip to the Philippines, that will take place in January 2015. Addressing a nation that is mostly Catholic, the comment of the Inquirer reminds that the Pope designates the Korean Church as a “the model for the church on the continent”, for different reasons: the strength and commitment of the lay community, the sacrifice of the martyrs and the force of evangelisation.
Even the Jakarta Post, the chief Indonesian newspaper, has given ample room to the Papal trip, with numerous reports and comments. The themes of dialogue and peace have gripped the Muslim public in Jakarta, but another peculiar side of the trip has been reported by the newspaper’s columns: the fact that Francis, during his visit, “smiled, waved and hugged hundreds of underprivileged people during his visit to South Korea this week, amplifying his image as the people’s pope”. The visit – reports the Jakarta Post – was punctuated with gestures that show the Pope’s preferential attention towards “the humanity of the underprivileged”.
The interpretation of The Japan Times, a Japanese newspaper in English, highlights its evaluation of Pope Francis’ trip to Korea: the Pope, it is written, has been to the East for a journey essentially focused on evangelization, “on a mission to tap the booming Asian industry of Christianity”.
The Indian press, instead, kept a low profile, due to the geographic distance of South Asia, where the Pope will set foot during the first leg of his next Asian trip, touching Sri Lanka. The Hindustan Times, a nationalist newspaper, highlights the Pope’s words when he tells “communist nations not to fear Christianity”. This statement also applies to the Indian context, where radical Hindu movements see a threat to the identity of the nation in Christian proselytism.
Francis has, instead, not made a breakthrough in the media of communist countries such the Laotian Vientiane Times, that completely ignores the Pope’s presence in Asia, or the official newspaper Viet Nam News, which only provides the Vietnamese population with a very short report on the Pope’s meeting with the victims of the Sewol ferry disaster.