Pope Francis, revered for his humility, modest way of living, care for the underprivileged and message of brotherly love and peace, will visit South Korea in August. Hosting a man who commands such high respect and admiration is an honor not only for Korea’s 5 million Roman Catholics but for all Koreans.
The pope’s Aug. 14-18 visit will cap off one of the most eventful, exciting years for Korea’s Catholic Church. In January, the pontiff appointed Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, archbishop of Seoul, the third Korean cardinal. The following month, the Vatican approved the beatification of 124 Korean priests, nuns and other Catholics who sacrificed their lives for their religious beliefs during the 18th and 19th centuries. Then came the announcement of the papal visit.
In view of its history and where it stands now in Korean society, one can say the Korean Catholic Church deserves the recognition it has received from the Vatican. In fact, Catholics have become the nation’s third-largest religious group in just over 200 years. As of 2011, there were 5.52 million Roman Catholics in the country, the fifth most in Asia and 47th in the world.
We believe that the fact that the pope will not include any other countries in his first Asian trip also shows the pope thinks highly of the Korean church and Korea as a whole. This is something all Koreans, regardless of religion, can be proud of.
During his visit, Pope Francis, the first non-European pontiff in nearly 1,300 years, will attend the 6th Asian Youth Day, to be held in Daejeon. Catholic youth from more than 15 countries are expected to attend the event.
He will also attend the beatification ceremony for the 124 martyrs. The presence of Pope Francis at the ceremony will remind many Koreans of Pope John Paul II’s canonization of 103 people, including the first Korean priest, Andrew Kim Dae-gun, in Seoul’s Yeouido Plaza in 1984. The late pope visited Korea again in 1989.
As the late pope’s visits caught much attention in Korea and abroad, so will that of Pope Francis in August. On top of what the pope will say on Catholic-related issues, we in the Southern part of the peninsula will be particularly drawn to his message regarding the national division.
The pope has already expressed his desire for peace and unity between South and North Korea. In his Easter Sunday address in March last year, the pope said: “On the Korean peninsula, may disagreements be overcome and a renewed spirit of reconciliation grow.”
We believe that the pope chose Koreas as the sole destination of his first Asian trip not only because of the importance of the Korean Catholic Church but also the need to preach about peace on the peninsula and all the other areas of conflict in the world.
Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung said that he felt “God’s grace” from the pope’s decision to come to Korea. One hopes that this grace will also be felt by those in the Northern part of the peninsula, where people are suffering from repressive rule and human rights abuses that are even compared to those perpetrated by the Nazis.