The head of the Korean Catholic Bishops' Conference expressed hope Tuesday that Pope Francis will bring a message of consolation and hope to the Korean society suffering from many social disputes during his trip to the country later this week.
The pope is scheduled to visit South Korea on Aug. 14-18 to participate in a gathering of Asian Catholic youths and beatify 124 Korean martyrs. This would be his first trip to Asia since he took over the papacy from his predecessor, Benedict XVI, in March 2013.
"Pope Francis is the person who makes it a priority to visit suffering people," Bishop Peter Kang U-il said in a statement released ahead of the pope's visit. "I believe he will come to us who are experiencing heartache over various issues and bring a message of consolation and hope."
He cited inter-Korean division, various diplomatic feuds with neighboring states, worsening income disparity, the Sewol ferry disaster and repeated inhumane assaults committed inside military barracks as major causes of suffering by many Koreans.
"I think the pontiff's choice of the Korean Peninsula as his first Asian destination was out of his aspiration to pray for peace on the peninsula and elsewhere in Asia," said Kang, who leads the South Korean organizing committee for the papal visit.
Kang hopes Koreans will unite in one mind, and embrace and be in harmony with each other so as to eventually bring peace and reconciliation to the peninsula.
During the visit, the Holy Father is also scheduled to meet and comfort families of the victims of the Sewol ferry that sank in southern waters on April 16 carrying an estimated 476 people, mostly high school students on a field trip to the southern resort island of Jeju. The sinking left 294 people dead and 10 others missing.
As for the family members who are demanding a full and independent parliamentary probe into the ferry disaster during a sit-in strike at Gwanghwamun Square, a ceremonial plaza in central Seoul which is the venue of the beatification ceremony on Saturday, the bishop voiced strong opposition to any attempt to remove them with the use of force.
"We can't expel people in tears," Kang said. "I think the authorities should discuss the matter with the family members so a minimum number of them can stay there." (Yonhap)